Senate returns Digital Assets Business Bill to Lower House

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

Legislators have recommended that the newly drafted Digital Assets Business Bill 2020 be returned in its entirety to the Lower House for further amendments. Of the five bills that were passed on Tuesday, it was the only one that the Upper House decided needed to be revisited.

The bill passed the committee stage with a few amendments before the decision was made to return it for further consideration.

President of the Senate, Alinica Williams-Grant, felt that some of the amendments proposed by the senators were so “substantive” that it was changing the substance of the bill.

“I believe the bill needs to be sent back… I think the committees at the Lower House would facilitate a better understanding of those amendments that are being proposed,” she said.

The Digital Assets Business Bill will regulate the use of blockchain technology and outlines the legislative framework for how persons carrying out digital asset business will operate in Antigua and Barbuda. It also addresses the protection of the interests of clients or potential clients and gives provision to other matters connected and related to digital business.

Leader of Government’s Business, Senator Mary Clare-Hurst, had earlier suggested to parliament that there were some faults in the bill, primarily the lack of information in the section which speaks to ‘prospectus for the issue or sale of digital assets’.

She said while other sections of the bill provided sufficient due diligence for the overall digital business operation, that particular section needed to give more detail about the people involved in the prospectus.

Clare-Hurst also raised concerns over the sentence structure which changed the meaning of some schedules and made them distinct to particular sections and not the entire bill.

“When I look at this, certain information that is supposed to be included is not there and Madame President if there is a transparency from cryptocurrency – the legal framework, if it is not strong then the space will be there for illegal activities,” the leader told the Senate.

The younger senators supported the bill but had their own recommendations.

Government-appointed Senator Aziza Lake said she would like the option of non-custodial crypto wallets to be added to the bill.

“With this type of wallet, the risk of data breach is minimal because it’s just you alone who has that mnemonic phrase; there’s no one else who has it so there’s no one that can break into a non-custodial wallet,” she posited.

The bill only speaks to custodial wallet which means that a customer’s private keys are being stored and looked after by a third-party custodian.

She also suggested that better definitions of the classes of licences (Class A and Class B) be published in the bill.

Bakesha James, the Governor General’s independent pick for senator, questioned the amount of time offered to preexisting local businesses which wish to register as a digital assets company. Currently the bill gives two months after the Act has been enacted for these businesses to become legal.

Meanwhile, Opposition Senator Damani Tabor gave the bill his full support adding that while he himself was not likely to engage in the trade, “if you can stomach the risk and understand what you’re doing, it’s a glorious opportunity and a glorious opportunity also to attract foreign investors that are very creditable and that can maybe quickly generate some jobs in the space.” The Money Laundering Prevention Amendment Bill, the ECCB Amendment Bill, the Electronic Crimes Amendment Bill, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, the Labour Code Amendment Bill and the motion to extend the state of public emergency until July 31were all passed on Tuesday.

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