Senate delays passage of NPO Bill

 

Attorney General Carl Bethel.

AG: Govt. to review civil society’s recommendations

 

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Declaring that the Minnis administration is a “reasonable government”, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday that it will delay the passage of the Non-Profit Organizations Bill to thoroughly review the recommendations made by civil society.

He made the announcement in the Senate during debate on a compendium of bills which seek to meet the requirements of international financial sector watchdogs.

According to the attorney general, the delay was prompted by Civil Society Bahamas’ (CSB) “substantive” recommendations, which Bethel said he received yesterday morning.

He moved for the bill to remain in committee stage.

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

“In short, for my colleagues opposite, we [will] put the bill off until next week,” Bethel said.

“In the meanwhile, we are going to consult further with civil society.

“We are going to review their suggestions.

“We’ll have some discussions with them and we will seek to accommodate those prudential and well-meaning suggestions which would not disrupt the ability of the law to achieve its purpose; which is the proper regulation of non-profits in the country.

“It is anticipated that when the Senate meets next week, we would have then circulated to colleague senators and to civil society our views and any suggested amendments, which will be able to accommodate the views of civil society before we pass the bills.”

Bethel said he will consult with Cabinet to ensure it is on board.

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.

Parliament passed the bill as part of a package of financial services bills last week.

However, Civil Society Bahamas criticized the government for its failure to consult stakeholders and incorporate draft legislation the umbrella group developed.

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, former Civil Society Bahamas President Terry Miller said the group is prepared to work with the government, but again lamented that it passed legislation without consulting civil society.

In the Senate, Bethel said, “We are a government that is prepared to accept positive suggestions to improve on our initiatives; necessary criticism where it is so; react to it in a positive way; and [have] meaningful dialogue with all partners, not only in wider society, but here as well with my colleagues opposite.

“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.”

During debate, PLP Senator Dr. Michael Darville said the bill is “overly unfair and punitive” on the non-profit sector.

He agreed with CSB that the proposed legislation needs further amendments and said he hopes the government will incorporate its recommendations as well as those of the opposition.

He argued that the bill, as drafted, could wipe out NPOs.

According to Bethel, the proposed legislation meets the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) requirement.

He added that while non-profit organizations in The Bahamas are entitled to receive and do receive valuable tax exemptions and other forms of support from the government, including grants of Crown Land, there has been little to no accountability to date.