Govt. passes amendments to NPO Bill

Govt. passes amendments to NPO Bill
Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest (file photo)

OECD: The Bahamas’ legal framework “not harmful”

The government yesterday passed amendments to the Non-Profit Organization Bill, along with a compendium of bills aimed to improve the financial services sector.

The bill requires non-profit organizations to register; declare their source of contributions; identify the controllers and members; demonstrate how gross annual income was applied; and evidence know your customer 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.

Passage of the NPO bill was delayed in the Senate last year following strong concerns from the church and charitable groups which called the legislation invasive.

In response, Attorney General Carl Bethel said there would be further consultation.

Earlier this month, a new draft of the bill was circulated to the Bahamas Christian Council and Civil Society Bahamas.

During debate in the House of Assembly Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said it was never the intent of the government to spy on or get involved in the operations of non-profit organizations.

“That is not the remit of a government,” he said.

“We are not a communist state.

“We are not interested in the business of organizations.

“What we are interested in is ensuring that our jurisdiction dos not inadvertently become a conduit for illicit or nefarious activity and that is our obligation to the international community.

“If you think that charitable organizations are not used for this kind of activity, you only have to go to the north and you will be combated with all kinds of organizations and charities that are doing all manner of things that are not legal.”

The minister said the government fully supports non-profit organizations and the broad range of work they do in the community.

“The work of the churches in our country is beyond question and we cannot do the kinds of things we do and have the kind of social interaction we have without the church, and without many of the civil organizations that exist and contribute to the social fabric of this country,” Turnquest said.

“So, I don’t want there to be any doubt with respect to government’s support, encouragement and protection of in respect to non-profit organizations in this country.”

Parliament passed the NPO bill as part of a package of financial services bills to meet the requirements of international financial sector regulators, including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Finance said The Bahamas passed the latest assessment by the OECD and confirmed that the jurisdiction is a “safe place for financial services and corporate investment activities”.

“The OECD concluded that the domestic legal framework is in line with international standards and therefore not harmful, which is a nod to the slate of legislative and regulatory reforms undertaken by the government since the new year,” read the statement.

The Global Forum on Harmful Tax Practices and Exchange of Information, approved the latest results of the peer review of The Bahamas’ domestic laws on economic substances, conducted by the OECD Forum at its meeting in Paris in June.

The ministry said the assessment reinforces to the international community that The Bahamas is a “safe place for financial services and other investment activities”.

It said it will now ensure all participants in the sector, including regulators, industry and other stakeholders do their part to monitor full compliance with all provisions of the law.