National Security Minister Stuart Young said the new $100 bill will help fight money laundering and other illicit activities. He was speaking on Thursday at the post-Cabinet media conference held at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.
He said that for quite some time, certain information has been provided to his ministry, regarding certain criminal and corrupt activities which if allowed to continue, would undermine the rule of law, good governance and national security.
"This criminal and corrupt activities are financed by illicit money and in many instances are supported and conducted through the use of stored cash which inter alia is difficult to trace."
Young said he advised Cabinet that in order to combat money laundering, including the financing of drugs, illegal firearms, tax evasion, corruption, counterfeiting and other related problems, government should withdraw from circulation the current $100 note, TT's largest note, issued by the Central Bank (CBTT) and replace it with a newly-issued note that is polymer-based (similar to the $50 note) and which has a host of security features.
He said that recently, there was an instance of people taking notes of a smaller denomination such as one-dollar bills, bleaching them and then reprinting them as $100 bills. Young said, the new $100 notes will have features to assist visually impaired people to identify it by the use of Braille features.
In order to effect the change, the Central Bank Act must be amended and on Friday, legislation will be brought before the House of Representatives to amend the time in the Act of three months' notice to demonetise (take out of circulation) the current $100 bill and reduce it to a minimum of 14 days. He said there will be a special sitting of the Senate on Saturday, "because of the national security nature of this matter.
"So by Saturday, we expect to pass the (amended) Central Bank Act." The amendment requires a simple majority. The administrative side of the process will be handled by the CBTT which will provide further details on the new note. The National Security and Finance ministries will provide all necessary assistance.
The CBTT, in a statement, said it intends to expand the range of polymer notes to other denominations next year. The bank said the change is to improve the durability of banknotes, upgrade the capacity to protect against forgery, and allow for easier tactile recognition by the visually impaired.
The bank added the new polymer $100 note will co-circulate with the existing paper-based $100 note, which will remain legal tender until further notice. Young said people will be asked to exchange their old $100 notes for the new ones, but the CBTT will determine the time frame.
He noted this country's bills are printed by UK-based company De La Rue but the cost to print the new notes would have to be provided by the CBTT. He said a lot of thought and planning went into the process and there will be enough new bills to replace the old bills. "This wasn't done vie-ki-vie," the CBTT said.
Young said counterfeiting was only part of a number of reasons for the change. He said the change would combat financing of narcotics, illegal firearms, tax evasion and black money (earned from illicit activities). Asked to share data on the levels of counterfeiting in TT, Young said that would have to be provided by the police or the CBTT.
He was also asked why the change was not done after the Christmas shopping period. "You could always say 'why now?', 'should I do it next year, should I do it next month?' From a national security perspective and when you are managing something like now is the time and let's just get it done.
"There may be minimal interruptions, there may be minimal disruptions and some people (will be) inconvenienced. But that could always come when you take decisions to tackle corruption and to fight crime."
Former minister in the finance ministry Mariano Browne said that with the change of the $50 to polymer it was a natural conclusion that the experiment would be continued. He pointed out that some economies have changed to the polymer bill but larger economies like the US still use a cotton/linen blend.
He said, however, that the changes in bills are usually done in the "fullness of time" and he could not understand the reason for the haste and the need for a special session of the Senate. "We will just have to wait and see how things play out," Browne said.