Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander said yesterday it is a shame the government intends to pass the Non-profit Organisations Bill, 2018, without first considering the concerns of the church.
The bill is a part of a compendium of bills Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest tabled in the House of Assembly last week that would bring The Bahamas in full compliance with the standards of international watchdogs like the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The government hopes to debate these bills today when the House meets, ahead of the next meeting of the EU’s technical team – which overviews the policies and laws of jurisdictions and recommends blacklisting for non-compliance – on December 11.
“We feel it’s a shame that that’s how negotiations go, in terms of something that is important to the non-profits that some of the churches fall under,” Fernander said in an interview with Guardian Business.
“I take note that in our conversation with the state when the bill was first put forth that there was a beginning of a conversation, with a move towards further conversation, that never took place. It is a surprise to us that this bill is in the House and no discussion or even a copy was given to the Christian Council, given the concerns that we had at the last iteration.”
Fernander said he just received a copy of the bill yesterday.
A bill for an act to provide for the regulation of non-profit organizations and for connected purposes requires the establishment of a register of non-profit organizations and prohibits a non-profit organization from carrying out its functions unless it is registered under the act.
Non-profit organizations would be required to apply to a registrar and pay a fee to be added to the register.
The bill also requires that non-profit organizations declare their anticipated source of contribution; copies of their articles of association; the identity of the controllers and other members of the organizations; their annual income; evidence of how gross annual income was applied; evidence of know your customer (KYC) procedures and evidence of board structure and function.
The bill also specifies that a non-profit organization would be removed from the register if it fails to maintain accounting records where required; fails to conduct its affairs in accordance with the objectives of the register; fails to submit any return, notice or other required document or fee to the registrar as required by the act; or refuses to comply with any request or direction given by the registrar pursuant to the act, among other things.
“There is no jurisdiction in the world where the church reports to the state; if it is, and we are saying they are two separate entities, then most jurisdictions have a faith-based section and that is separate from the non-profits,” Fernander said.
“I think the intrusion of state into the church must be watched very carefully and if it is that churches will have to be removed off the register as threatened, the churches will have a very strong response in the future if this is the way the movement is going to be.”
Fernander said while he understands the need for the bill, in order to close “the loopholes in the Registrar General’s Department” that make The Bahamas susceptible to sanctions by international financial regulatory bodies, the requirements are too stringent for the church.
“We are well aware of the loopholes that are going to be closed, but we have an abundance of churches that are independent churches, and that are not under denominations and so will be affected by this,” he said.
“And so, we will meet early in the year because we now have 60 days to comply.”