Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest yesterday sought to allay fears raised by the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) regarding the Non-Profit Organizations Bill, noting that the government has no intention of interfering or monitoring non-profit organizations in the country.
“Let me state for the record that it is not the intent of the government to interfere or to monitor, other than for defined purposes, the activities of any organization, be they religious, civic, social, that is not the intent of this bill,” said Turnquest during debate on a compendium of bills that will change the financial services sector in the country.
“The overriding objective of this bill is to provide for regulation to ensure that non-profit organizations are operating in a transparent manner and are not engaged in activities, which constitute an identified risk as defined in the Proceeds of Crime Act, Chapter 92, namely activities involved in corruption, cybercrime, human trafficking, money laundering, or financing terrorism or proliferation or financing of weapons of mass destruction.”
Turnquest said he knows that some non-profits might argue that they merely operate a “little charity organization” and know nothing about financing.
He said some might say, “‘I’m not involved with anybody that is questionable, as far as I am aware. We receive donations and we use those donations for the purpose established.’
“I suspect that 100 percent of our organizations will be so subscribed.
“This bill though, is intended to help ensure that no actor, being domestic or international, comes to The Bahamas, establishes a non-profit organization or knowingly or unknowingly utilizes an existing non-profit organization to launder or conceal the proceeds of crime.
“It can happen because many organizations receive donations. Some receive donations from around the world. And a lot of times you don’t necessarily know the background of those persons who are giving you donations.
“This is not concerned with your $100, your $1,000 or even your $10,000 donation.
“This is concerned with your large donations. So, this is not about trying to identity, manage, expose the affairs of any organization. It is intended to ensure transparency in the fight against illicit activity.”
The Non-Profit Organizations Bill, 2018, seeks to regulate NPOs and mandates that each organization registers with the government and provides, among other things, evidence of its gross annual income, the identities of its members and evidence of know your customer compliance. The bill also mandates that NPOs report donations of $50,000 or more as well as its 10 largest donations.
BCC President Bishop Delton Fernander said he believes the bill is an “intrusion of the state into the church”.
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said yesterday the bill represents a completely new paradigm.
“Some might likely see it as a suppression of small churches which are the bedrock of some small communities,” Cooper said.
“I do need to understand why this level of disclosure is needed by non-profits.
“Is there something I’m unaware of? Have they been conclusively linked to terrorism or money laundering for drug cartels? Is this a phenomenon in The Bahamas?”
Cooper noted that it is troubling the “government seeks such deep insight into non-profits like churches, lodges and fraternities, but does not seek to have political parties subject to the same disclosure”.
The compendium of bills debated includes The Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, the Commercial Entities (Substance Requirements) Bill, the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill, the Penal Code Amendment Bill and the Non-Profit Organizations Bill.
The bills were passed shortly after 6 p.m.