The proposed introduction of central bank digital currency (CBDC) could help reduce the targeting of retail and wholesale businesses by criminal gangs seeking large cash receipts, according to Peter Bunting, chief business officer of the opposition in the Senate.
The Upper House on Friday approved the Bank of Jamaica (Amendment) Act 2022 which will facilitate the issuance of CBDC by the central bank.
“To the extent that we can move a lot of that (cash) into the realm of digital currency, into digital wallets or any other type of electronic transaction rather than cash, I think that will be an advantage to reduce the risk of harm or exposure to violence by legitimate business operators,” he said.
While supporting the bill, Bunting urged the government to proceed with care and caution “so that we don’t inadvertently end up making it easier for criminals and their enablers to access the illicit proceeds of crime.”
He reiterated National Security Minister Dr. Horace Chang’s comments in his sectoral debate presentation this week that $1 billion in illicit money pours into the economy every year.
“So we have to be very careful that nothing in this bill facilitates or facilitates the expansion of these criminal enterprises to evade law enforcement scrutiny,” Bunting urged fellow lawmakers.
He said the central bank should conduct a strong public education exercise to raise awareness about the safety and benefits of digital currency, as there was still some skepticism about the use of mobile wallets.
In spearheading the bill, Chief of Government Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith said the CBDC will reduce the costs associated with providing a national means of payment and provide an alternative to issuing banknotes.
She said CBDC should not be confused with cryptocurrency.
Johnson Smith said a digital currency pilot was rolled out between August and December.
She said the CBDC’s nationwide rollout is planned for this quarter of the fiscal year.
The Bank of Jamaica will be the sole authority to issue CBDCs and recognize digital currency as legal tender.