Civil society says move is positive
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Debate of the Non-Profit Organization (NPO) Bill was delayed in the Senate for the second time yesterday after Attorney General Carl Bethel, advised the Upper Chamber that he was not entirely satisfied with the draft legislation.
The Senate delayed the passage of the legislation last December, citing the need to consult further with stakeholders, namely civic society.
The move came amid widespread criticisms of the legislation; it’s potential impact on non-profits in the country; and the government’s lack of consultation with NPOs.
“We had intended to complete the debate and passage of the Non-Profit Organization Bill, however, it is still in a state of consultation,” Bethel advised.
“I’m not satisfied that the draft that we have at the moment adequately captures what I would wish to see, and tender and proffer to the civil society and religious community as being an acceptable compromise that will be workable on their behalf, which will also secure the interests of this government of having an appropriate regulatory and supervisory framework.”
The government has until September 2019 to pass the bill, which is a requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
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.
These organizations would also be required to report their 10 largest donations.
The umbrella group, Civil Society Bahamas, criticized the government for its failure to consult stakeholders and incorporate draft legislation the group developed three years ago.
The group also called the 90-day clause to register following enactment, “unrealistic”.
It added that the bill in its current form could wipe out the civil society sector.
When contacted yesterday, Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Executive Director Matthew Albury said based on discussions with executives of Civil Society Bahamas, he understood the government was still working through the various revisions.
He said there was an assurance that the bill would go forward without incorporating the views of stakeholders.
“That’s good news,” Albury said.
“The timeline of it still seems a little bit unclear, but I know on our side we are not going to let it sit too long.
“… There were two things at play; I think out conversations with the attorney general when we raised have been very productive and the back and forth, comments have been well received and considered.
“How that manifest in terms of development of the law, we will still have to see.
“That process was respective of consultative approach. Always there could have been more time and a broader breadth of consultation, but what was achieved was able to happen because Bahamas Civil Society Bahamas had done years of work and consultation, so there was a lot of input already that could have bene brought to bear.
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).