Govt. has to take a stand with international bodies, minister says
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest yesterday acknowledged there may not have been enough stakeholder consultation over the Non-Profit Organizations Bill that Parliament passed last week, but insisted the proposed legislation is intended to prevent any organization in The Bahamas from willingly or unwillingly being used for terrorism financing.
Civil Society Bahamas (CSB), a civil society umbrella organization, decried the passage of the legislation without stakeholder consultation or the incorporation of draft legislation it developed in 2015 to regulate civil society organizations.
It said in its current form, the NPO Bill could “decimate the civil society sector”.
The Senate delayed the passage of the bill Monday to review CSB’s recommendations.
The group commended the move.
Responding to questions from the media on whether in hindsight the government should have engaged NPOs before passing the legislation, Turnquest said, “Various organizations are saying there was not enough consultation and so from their perspective there wasn’t, and we have to accept that.
“I think the attorney general in the Senate yesterday…. indicated that he’ll pull back the bill for a bit more discussion, but at the end of the day the provisions of the bill are going to have to go forward.
“[Now] whether there [are] amendments to the language to make some things more clear, that may happen, but the basic intent of the bill, the basic premise of the bill unfortunately or fortunately has to go forward.”
The NPO Bill part of a package of financial sector reform legislation.
The legislation was passed on the backdrop of increased financial sector requirements by international regulatory bodies, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD).
In the Senate Monday, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government was receptive to the “substantive” and “well-meaning” recommendations.
The bill remains in committee stage.
Asked whether the government is confident that the package of bills averts sanctions from international financial sector watchdogs, Turnquest said, “As confident as we can be. These things are somewhat subjective unfortunately.
“We’ve been asking the EU (European Union), the OECD to tell us exactly what it is that is acceptable to them; to give us the model law that we can benchmark off of and establish our legislation.
“Unfortunately, they have not been prepared to do that thus far, so it has been a back and forth kind of discussion when we are putting forth our position and they are saying whether in their opinion it is acceptable or not so we are really in real time developing the standard which is always an uncomfortable position to be in because the standard keeps moving.
“As you put forth proposals, they put back new proposals and you go back and forth.”
Turnquest said the government expects to learn definitively whether The Bahamas has reached the goalpost or exceeded it on December 31, “when everybody would have had to put their cards on the table and we know exactly what the final result will be”.
He pointed out that the OECD and other bodies reviewed the draft legislation and deemed them acceptable.
When Turnquest wrapped up debate on the compendium of bills in the House last week, he made clear that the government will eventually take a stand and declare it has satisfied the financial requirements imposed by the international bodies.
He said the government will push back against additional requirements it deems unnecessary or harmful to Bahamian business.
Outside Cabinet yesterday, the minister made a similar point and said the government has already made some decisions to that end.
However, he reminded the public that these are global standards and not bilateral ones.
“We have communicated to them — some of the points that they have put to us — we are just not going to do that,” he said.
“Our constitution does not allow us to do it or it is so harmful to our own business that we cannot do it.
“So, we continue again to have these discussions and to make the adjustments; [and] pushback where we think we can… and where we have a hard position based upon our position as an international financial center and as a sovereign country.”