ADDRESS BY THE HON. STEPHEN CADIZ MINISTER OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY
AT THE 7TH COMPLIANCE CONFERENCE ON MONEY LAUNDERING AND COMBATING THE FINANCING OF TERRORISM
8:30AM TUESDAY 31ST JANUARY 2012
HYATT REGENCY TRINIDAD
I would like to thank the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), the Ministry of National Security and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance for organizing this Conference and inviting me to speak on the critical issue of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
These types of crimes affect everyone; from large developed nations to small developing ones like ours. It is therefore important that we increase our public awareness and take the necessary preventative measures to reduce these illegal activities.
Today criminal organizations, drug cartels and terrorists are able to move their resources and operations across borders with little effort, through high technology and complicit networks, because of weak regulatory enforcement.
For a small open economy like Trinidad and Tobago, the risks from money laundering have increased substantially over the last two decades. Our economy has become more open as barriers to trade and financial flows have been minimized. Furthermore, we have become an important regional financial centre, which can bring with it the potential to attract illegal financial flows that impact negatively on our businesses and the way they operate.
As you are aware, financial institutions are important catalysts for economic growth and development as they provide the necessary funds for the economy to expand. Accordingly, a sound and strong financial system, coupled with a thriving business sector are vital to our country’s economic advancement. Encouraging business growth and expansion is a major part of my Ministry’s mandate and is very close to my heart as I was once in the private sector myself.
Money laundering, however, erodes the integrity of businesses and financial institutions by involving them in the proceeds of illegal activities. This makes it more difficult for our legitimate businesses to conduct transactions and access much needed funds. The damage caused invariably transcends beyond the financial institutions and has far- reaching consequences nationally, regionally and internationally.
Building confidence in our economy is crucial for us to be able to attract foreign direct investments, achieve economic growth and ultimately improve the lives of our citizens. This Government, in an effort to re-build confidence, is committed to displaying honesty, fairness and accountability for national resources. We are working to strengthen our financial and regulatory institutions to fight corruption.
We are cognizant that globalization has brought many benefits, but has also increased our vulnerability to money laundering by providing the channel for funds to flow freely across national boundaries. In addition, technological advances have provided the engine for these funds to reach the most remote countries.
The recent financial crisis has highlighted the need for a new paradigm that emphasizes closer collaboration between developed and developing countries. It has also raised the focus on the need for greater transparency of financial and business transactions and good Governance.
It is easy for us to talk about transparency as a modernizing tool, but turning words into actions is far more critical. Effecting transparency throughout Trinidad and Tobago requires strong, sustained and committed leadership at every level; national, community and business. It also requires a well defined partnership between the public and the private sectors and its regulators. This can help restore confidence in the areas where it matters most: in the economy and the institutions that serve both the public and private interests.
Today, Trinidad and Tobago is ranked 91 out of 183 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. We understand the devastating consequences of corruption and its impact upon our businesses. This is why the Government is working assiduously to improve our ranking through increased accountability to our population. We are also working in close collaboration with the private sector to build a business environment that is more transparent and predictable.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is our task to transform the society into one that is perceived as honest, ethical and transparent. Never before have we been in a better position to make this happen. With the assistance of the Caribbean Action Task Force, we can encourage greater compliance among our financial institutions.
As we improve upon our own business and investment climate, transparency, integrity and public accountability have to become our watchwords as we strive to make a greater impact upon the world’s economy.
The failure of unilateralism to promote national interests, has underlined the urgent need for strengthened international cooperation. This cooperation is essential to combating money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as I end here today, let me wish you all successful deliberations as you seek to encourage greater compliance of financial institutions. Rest assured that the Government is committed towards meeting our international requirements with respect to combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
I thank you.