Civil Society Bahamas: Govt. has shown good faith

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and this Cabinet walk to the House of Assembly.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) said yesterday that it was grateful for the “good faith” demonstrated by the government as it seeks to revise the Non-Profit Organizations Bill which the Senate delayed debate on to consult stakeholders.

CSB met with Attorney General Carl Bethel over the weekend.

It said Bethel committed to continue reviewing the bill to minimize potential damage to the NPO sector.

The group said the bill is now expected to be debated in the Senate next month to allow for further review and drafting.

“Whilst mindful of the many clauses suggested by CSB, including clauses from the 2015 CSO (Civil Society Organization) Bill, the attorney general advised that wide scale changes that would require the bill to go back to the Lower Chamber, or otherwise significantly delay the objective of developing regulatory standards in the sector would not be considered,” CSB said in a statement.

However, CSB said the government was receptive to at least nine points.

These include, the formation of an advisory council to help form protocols and regulations to strengthen the sector; the simplification of the regulation process by requiring NPOs to provide organizational information as opposed to financial documents; a review of the language relating to know your customer to lessen the “compliance burden” and bring it in line with other non-financial sectors; and a waiver of registration fees for existing NPOs.

The group also said the government was prepared to move on exempting individuals exercising personal charity, so they would not be considered an NPO; raising the level of reportable donation and disbursements; reducing the potential fines the registrar can impose and the sentence for breach of regulations — not to exceed one year; and adding a right to appeal clause to make it “less onerous on non-profits to challenge the decision of the registrar”.

Bethel could not be reached for comment.

Parliament passed the bill earlier this month.

During debate in the Senate last Monday, Bethel said the delay was prompted by CSB’s substantive recommendations.

He said the government will review its suggestions and seek to accommodate “prudential and well-meaning suggestions” that would not disrupt the overarching objective of the bill: to regulate civic organizations in The Bahamas in compliance with international standards.

In its current form, the Non-Profit Organizations Bill requires NPOs to register; declare their source of contributions; identify the controllers and members; demonstrate how gross annual income was applied, and evidence of know your customer (KYC) procedures.

A non-profit organization can be removed from the register if it fails to maintain accounting records, refuses to comply with a request given by the registrar or if it fails to conduct its affairs in accordance with the legislation.

The bill also requires NPOs to report donations of $50,000 or more, among other measures.

CSB said yesterday that it was cautiously optimistic about the possible revisions to the legislation.

The umbrella civic organization, however, said there were lingering concerns that political parties appear to be outside the scope of the legislation.

Citizens for a Better Bahamas has called on the government to clarify this point.