Civil society commends AG for delaying NPO Bill

Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) President Shaun Ingraham. ( Photo courtesy of the Rotary Club of Eleuthera)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) President Shaun Ingraham yesterday commended the government for delaying the passage of the Non-Profit Organizations Bill in order to consult with the umbrella organization and review its recommendations.

Attorney General Carl Bethel announced the delay in the Senate yesterday during debate on a compendium of bills which seek to meet the requirements of international financial regulatory bodies.

Bethel said the government is receptive to what he called substantive and well-meaning suggestions made by CSB.

“Civil Society Bahamas commends the attorney general and the Senate for their commitment to consultation with the civil society organization sector,” Ingraham told Eyewitness News Online when contacted for comment.

“The work that Civil Society Bahamas has done over the past years to develop the Civil Society Organizations Bill, 2015 (CSO Bill) and the recent consultations with both CSOs and government prepared the sector to respond quickly and provide feedback.

“The goal is to ensure that legislation is in place to appropriately regulate the sector and meet the government’s concern about potential abuses of NPOs for money laundering.

“However, CSB is confident this can be done while still supporting the growth of this sector which is widely recognized as critical for national development.”

In a statement, CSB said the draft was widely disseminated for consultation and reflects input of both civil society and the government.

The group detailed nine areas of concern relating to the Non-Profit Organizations Bill, 2018.

Parliament passed the bill last week.

CSB said it appeared the bill was developed with minimal or no consultation with stakeholders; the 90-day clause for NPOs to registered following the legislation’s enactment could wipe out the sector; the proposed legislation does not reflect the scope of operations of non-profit organizations in The Bahamas; the bill is “unfairly punitive” and was not supported by a green paper or white paper as required under law; and it gives very wide powers to the minister and registrar to oversee the regulations of an already broad sector.

In the Senate, Bethel said the government is prepared to accept positive suggestions and necessary criticisms to improve its initiations, as well as engage in meaningful dialogue with stakeholders.

He said, “We are a reasonable government and it is not our intention to unilaterally disregard the well-meaning and positive contributions from all who could assist us in passing better laws.”

The bill will remain in committee stage, according to Bethel.

He said, however, the government expects to pass the bill before the end of the year.

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.