Davis: PLP senators abstained finance bills over unaddressed concerns

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said yesterday that while opposition parliamentarians voted in support of a package of financial sector reform bills in the House of Assembly last week, it did so with an understanding that certain concerns expressed about the proposed legislation would be addressed in the Senate.

However, the PLP leader said these concerns were not addressed in the Upper Chamber on Monday night.

The bills passed in the House seek to meet the requirements of international financial regulatory bodies.

The bills included: the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill, the Commercial Entities (Substance Requirements) Bill, the Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, and the Non-Profit Organizations Bill.

Opposition senators abstained on three of the bills — the Commercial Entities (Substance) Requirements Bill, the Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, and the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill.

They voted against the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill.

The Senate delayed debate on NPO Bill for further review.

Responding to questions on the opposition’s reversed position, Davis said, “If you followed the proceedings you would have noted that I recommended… certain amendments or suggestions [on] the bills and even asked that some of the bills remain in committee.

“We were told that most of those concerns… would be addressed in the Senate because they wanted to get through, and they would deal with it by way of what they call the slip rule; requiring [the bills] not to come back to the House.

“I didn’t think that was possible, but I said okay, we’ll see what happens.

“On that assurance we gave our support [in the House].

“Now, some movements were suggested in the Senate.

“I monitored what was going on and the movements did not meet all of the concerns that we had in respect to the bills.

“In fact, the one move that they did make was in respect to the Non-Profit [Organizations] Bill, which they will not be proceeding with or will be looking at for further amendments and consultation.”

In the Upper Chamber, PLP Senator Fred Mitchell motioned to amend the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill to apply to any new entity which registers to operate in The Bahamas from the date of enforcement.

The move was unsuccessful.

The bill removes preferential tax regimes for certain categories of companies or entities.

Mitchell also motioned for a clause to be added to the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill which would require the attorney general to be satisfied that all reasonable effort was made to recover revenue lost before punitive measures were sought. However, that amendment was voted against.

The bill seeks to criminalize the act of defrauding the government in relation to the collection of revenue.

As it relates to the delay of NPO Bill, Davis said the move was “prudent”.

He charged that the bill was fraught with challenges, some of which the opposition pointed out.

The PLP leader also referenced the grave concerns of the church and civil society groups.

“Our culture, our constitutional construct [is] different from many of the groupings that formulate initiatives to ensure that revenue does not leak from their jurisdictions, to offshore jurisdictions,” he said.

“They don’t take into account those differences and sometimes we have to sit back and look at it, and look at these things in our particular construct… to determine whether or not it is repugnant to our constitutional provisions.

“I don’t know that much thought would have gone into any of these things.”

The NPO Bill remains in committee stage.

The government plans to review the recommendations by Civil Society Bahamas before debating the bill.