Smith suggests NPO Bill leading Bahamas to fascism

Attorney Fred Smith, Q.C, speaks with the media outside the Supreme court yesterday.

Bill was passed in the House of Assembly last Wednesday

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Following the passage of the Non-Profit Organization (Amendment) Bill in the House of Assembly last Wednesday, attorney Fred Smith, QC, said while he has no problem with the government passing legislation requiring non-profits suspected of committing a financial crime to produce information of their finances, the requirements of the NPO Bill “is making us become a fascist police state”.

“This business of requiring everybody to prove they’re not involved in money laundering [or a] source of terrorism funding is turning The Bahamas upside down, and it is making us become a fascist police state,” Smith said.

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 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.

Of the bill, Smith said, “It’s like the government passing an act that says from next week, every Bahamian that has a bank account has to disclose to the government the source of their funding.

“Non-profits are not avenues for money laundering or terrorism activity in The Bahamas because we have exchange control.

“I don’t know of any non-profit that operates in the United States or foreign currency dollars.

“Non-profit organizations in The Bahamas are churches; they are environmental organizations; human rights organizations; women’s rights; crisis centers, LGBTI.”

Smith opined that that provisions of the bill removes the constitutional right of NPOs to be presumed innocent.

“We have hundreds of non-profit organizations in The Bahamas; none of which to my knowledge have been prosecuted for having being engaged in any illegal activities such as money laundering or terrorism etc.,” he said.

“So, I think passing a law which presumes everybody guilty, rather than respecting the presumption of innocence in our constitution is only going to continue to erode and take away the constitutional and human rights of Bahamians in this country, and I am opposed to this.”

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.

It is unclear when debate on the bill will take place in the Senate.