A day after Attorney General Carl Bethel accused Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) of divulging confidential information and trying to force the government’s hand, the group said yesterday that it never intended to make the government bow to pressure and delay the Non-Profit Organisations Bill.
In a statement, CSB said its dialogue with the attorney general was “reflective of a productive consultative process, and is not meant to make the government bow to pressure, nor for CSB to appear confrontational on this matter, as we believe that this would be counterproductive”.
“CSB’s statements to date have congratulated the efforts of the attorney general and the government for their consultation on the bill,” the group said.
“In a meeting between Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) and the attorney general, the honorable Carl Bethel, QC, on 15 December 2018, the AG indicated that several improvements were being considered to improve the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, 2018.
“By releasing information from the meeting, CSB wanted to let our partners and members know about the various positive issues that the AG had asked draftspersons in his office to make. It was not CSB’s intention in any way to be seen as trying to force the government’s hand.”
CSB Vice President D. Anthony Hamilton said the group should have “clarified that the discussions were mutually agreed upon for public discussion”.
“We have reached out to the AG today to reassure him of our intention to continue to consult in good faith,” Hamilton said.
“We believe the AG will take the necessary steps to make this bill as positive as possible for our sector, and we look forward to seeing the bill again, once the drafting is complete.”
Mark Palmer, CSB secretary, said the group is committed to constructive dialogue.
“As this is a relatively new process, there will be teething issues, and we will do all we can to improve the process and make that engagement as constructive as possible,” Palmer said.
This latest back and forth started on Sunday after CSB issued a statement announcing the delay of the NPO bill to January 2019.
CSB said it held a meeting with Bethel where he said the government intended to “revise and rescale” the NPO bill to “more moderate regulation of the sector”.
When called for comment on Sunday, Bethel said he was “disappointed that civil society organizations would adopt the kind of posture that is evident by this press statement”.
“A commitment to review is not a commitment to do,” he said.
“Yet, to put into the public domain our confidential and private discussions in this way seems to be an attempt to try and force the government’s hand.
“That is not an acceptable way to have a civil discussion.”
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.
It was passed in the House of Assembly on December 5.
Bethel said yesterday in the Senate that the bill will be debated in January 2019.
Civil society, Bahamas Christian Council and other non-profit groups have voiced concerns about the bill.