The National Assembly, on Thursday, approved the Insurance (Supplementary Provisions) Bill which when enacted will transfer the functions of the Commissioner of Insurance (COI) to the Bank of Guyana.
This Bill adds the final nail to the departure of Mrs. Maria van Beek, a departure that people purporting to be close to her denied, and one, which the other media houses deemed inaccurate.
Mrs. van Beek has since left Guyana but it has not been ascertained whether her departure is permanent.
PNCR Shadow Finance Minister, Winston Murray, also pointed to the article published by Kaieteur News that the Commissioner of Insurance Maria van Beek was not interested in carrying out the functions inherent in that office ever since the attack on her life.
People purportedly aligned to Mrs. van Beek immediately dubbed the article as erroneous and the other media houses rushed to condemn Kaieteur News without doing their own investigation.
In a telephone conversation with a Kaieteur News editor, Mrs. van Beek had asked whether the editor was prepared to take a bullet for her.
That was never reported out of deference for the Commissioner of Insurance.
The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance condemned the article by this newspaper and the publication was also subjected to a barrage of attacks by the National Communications Network purporting that Kaieteur News was misinforming the public.
The Bill was presented to the House by Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, who, in seeking to strengthen his position told the House that an IMF (International Monetary Fund) paper completed in 2000 had listed the benefits of unifying the regulatory framework of the financial sector including that of the insurance sector.
According to Dr Singh, the unification of the regulator of the sector will reduce cost and remove duplicity.
He noted that whilst there were also arguments against the unification of the regulatory framework it was an ongoing debate and the Government has opted for the unification approach.
According to Dr Singh many jurisdictions are currently reviewing their regulatory architecture in that the financial sector’s supervision is subject to ongoing analysis.
“I must emphasis the high priority that the Government places on policies to ensure a strong stable financial sector and to promote growth.”
He pointed out also staff at the Commissioner of Insurance will be augmented at BOG. “All resources available should be utilised to supervise the insurance sector.”
Dr. Singh noted that in Guyana’s environment, technical resource was modest and the need to optimise its use was important.
According to Dr. Singh, the Bill seeks to ensure the efficient use of Guyana’s limited resource as it relates to the supervision of the financial sector.
Mr. Winston Murray in his presentation said that the paper that Dr. Singh sought to support his argument in the House with information that was based on a 2000 paper when the financial crisis was not in full swing.
He noted that the Insurance Act of 1998 came into force in 2002 when the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance was set up and as recent as March 12 this year when the House debated a motion on the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO) Guyana debacle, the work of the Commissioner of Insurance (COI) was praised.
He noted that the Government had seen it fit to run two separate regulatory bodies namely Bank of Guyana for banks and other financial institutions, and the COI for the Insurance Sector.
“Between then and now that had been good enough,” said Murray who pointed to the fact that the Minister is now calling for adequate supervision.
According to Murray, inherent in the Minister’s comment was the fact that the system prior to last Thursday was inadequate.
“If you say that you want a more robust framework then we did not have that…Something must not have been functioning well.”
He said that the Bill may very well have been motivated by that fact and it is quite possible that the administration was not willing to frontally acknowledge it.
“We don’t object to increased oversight,” said Murray who questioned the motive behind the move at this time.
Leader of the Alliance for Change Khemraj Ramjattan however was convinced that the Bill has a sinister motivation giving that the PPP was now reneging on its previous position.
He noted that it was the same People’s Progressive Party whose Finance Minister then was Bharrat Jagdeo. It was Jagdeo who when presenting the Insurance Act in 1998 argued against sentiments that were being expressed by the Government now.
He recalled that Jagdeo’s position then was there was a need for a separate body to regulate the insurance sector and the architecture should not be singular.
Ramjattan questioned what could have possibly happened over the years. If the party had wanted the BOG to regulate it, that would have been done since then.
He noted that the separate regulators were to ensure greater transparency in that there would have been more checks and balances.
He said that the party loves to preach its love for supervision and appointed the COI as a watchdog and now is coming to the House with a retrograde step that the AFC could not support.
He reminded the House that the now President Bharrat Jagdeo had then argued that there needs to be specialized areas of supervision and the new Bill is seeking to have a monopoly as it relates to supervision, “it is better to have a variety of people watching over each other”.
He also questioned the track record of BOG given that van Beek was doing a good job and had warned BOG that CLICO Guyana was breaching the law and that nothing was done by the bank to intervene.
Ramjattan told the House that the only fault he has found with the current COI was the fact that the Insurance Act caters for her to prosecute and she did not, “but I was reliably informed that when she pointed out CLICO Guyana’s breach she was told to shut up about it.”
The outspoken Parliamentarian after telling the House that his party could not support a scam and major cover up, left the National Assembly and was followed by his colleagues.