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Civil Society Bahamas has major concerns with nonprofit bill

Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) yesterday called on the government to amend the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, 2018.

Last week, Parliament passed the bill as part of a compendium of financial services bills, which are expected to be debated in the Senate today.

The Non-Profit Organisations Bill seeks to regulate non-profit organizations and mandates that each organization register 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.

“Civil Society Bahamas, having requested input from its base of over 300 civil society and not-for-profit organizations, has reviewed the Non-Profit Organisations 2018 Bill (NPO 2018 Bill) and noted a number of areas which raise significant concerns for the future health of the civil society sector,” the group said in a statement.

“As a result, Civil Society Bahamas requests the amalgamation of this bill with the Civil Society Organizations Bill, 2015 (CSO 2015 Bill) and the formation of a joint task force to study this issue and develop a clear plan for appropriate regulation, public education and positive growth of the civil society sector.”

CSB said over the past four years it has done extensive work drafting the Civil Society Organizations Bill, 2015, which provides a functional framework for the regulation, standards and accountability of the sector.

The draft was disseminated for consultation and reflects input of both civil society and government

The statement outlined nine key areas of concern in relation to the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, 2018. 

The group noted that the bill was developed with minimal to no consultation with the civil society sector; is not supported by a green paper or white paper, as required under legislative procedure; and does not seem to reflect the scope and operations of the local not-for-profit sector.

“The prescriptive nature of the bill could potentially decimate the civil society sector, as the vast majority of non-profits will not be able to comply with the strict registration, accounting and record keeping demands of the bill,” the statement said.

Among other concerns expressed by the organization is the suggested schedule of 90 days for registration from enactment, which CSB has called “unrealistic”.

“We are well aware of the importance and timeliness of such a bill to avoid a potential blacklisting of The Bahamas by the OECD, but we see components of this bill that may create adverse conditions for entities that play a critical role in our national development,” said CSB Vice President Dr. Anthony Hamilton.

“We feel the government’s obligations to international regulators can be met without overly penalizing or disincentivizing the operation and growth of this critical sector.”

Matt Aubry, executive director of the Organization for Responsible Governance, said that at a recent meeting Attorney General Carl Bethel agreed to review both bills and consider drafting a new bill. 

Aubry said Bethel asked Civil Society Bahamas to draft a document by December 15 to advise him of the sector’s concerns regarding the 2018 bill and provide suggestions to improve the 2015 bill.

“As such Civil Society Bahamas requests that the NPO 2018 bill be amended by the Office of the Attorney General to reflect measures to both address the government’s concerns related to transparency and accountability, and support the positive growth of the burgeoning local civil society sector,” the statement said.

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Sloan Smith

Sloan covers national news for The Nassau Guardian. Sloan officially joined the news team in September 2016 but interned at The Nassau Guardian while studying journalism at the University of The Bahamas. Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications

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