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AG on defensive over NPO bill consultation

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday it is “unfair and improper” for some to claim the government did not consult stakeholders on the Non-Profit Organisations Bill.

Bethel confirmed the bill will be delayed until January 2019 after widespread pushback from non-profit organizations, including Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) and the Bahamas Christian Council.

“We did our part,” Bethel said.

“We continue to do our part. We tabled this bill [and] nobody had anything to say about it.

“So, when it moves from tabling to passage, all of a sudden there is no consultation.

“The bill had been tabled. What higher form of engagement and consultation [is] there?

“If a government tables a bill, it indicates a strong intention to move towards the next stage.

“Nobody said anything. It’s only been over the last two weeks that suddenly there has been this upsurge.

“So, this issue of non-consultation is really improper and unfair.

“It’s been clear that we were going to move on this issue of non-profits for over a year. Civil society had their bill; they could have brought it forward. I knew nothing about it. I only found out about it last week.”

The non-profit bill was tabled in the House of Assembly on November 28. A week later it was passed as part of a compendium of bills.

The bill seeks to regulate non-profit organizations and mandates that each organization registers with the government and provide, among other things, evidence of its gross annual income, the identities of its members and evidence of know your customer due diligence.

The bill also mandates that each NPO report donations of $50,000 or more as well as its 10 largest donations.

When the Senate met on December 10, Bethel said the non-profit bill would be shelved pending further consultation.

Asked why the government did not engage in consultation earlier, Bethel said, “This is an ongoing process, sir.

“It’s been known that we were moving on non-profits for a long time. We made efforts.

“We had long discussions earlier in 2018 on the issue. The fact is, civil society pulled out of their pocket a bill they had been working on since 2015. I didn’t know anything about it.

“They had been working on it with the former government since 2015. Nobody has ever said anything to me about this civil society organizations bill.”

Asked why he did not meet with CSB before bringing the NPO bill, Bethel said, “They had the bill. They needed to meet with me.

“They knew we were moving on non-profits. Isn’t that clear? The record of last year’s engagement is clear, that the government was going to be moving on non-profits.”

The Guardian pointed out that the government is engaged in consultation with the religious community on a Marital Rape Bill, which has not yet been tabled in the House.

“That’s not a fair question because, at the end of the day, things happen as they happen,” Bethel said.

“With the Marital Rape Bill, that was a peculiar issue that arose. We had looked at the issue. We had circulated something and the whole events that went down there revealed a peculiar situation that I really don’t want to revisit.”

Asked why the non-profits were not given access to the bill tabled on November 28, Bethel said, “They had their own bill.

“Why didn’t they bring their bill to me? They knew we were moving on these issues.

“This bill has been benchmarked against other countries in the Caribbean. They are doing exactly what’s in this bill as is, without any change.

“We are bending to some of the views advanced by civil society and by the clergy.”

Bethel noted that there are certain things in the NPO bill that have to go through.

“Other things there can be ground given on, if you will, to make it a more serviceable, more user-friendly bill,” he said.

He added, “Nobody wants to legislate in the wrong way, you know.

“It’s a question of legislating correctly. That does require some dialogue, but at the end of the day it also requires a two-way communication, not just one way.”

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018. Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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