Govt seeks to quell concerns by BCC over NPO compliance
After Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander vowed to push back against what he said is the government’s intrusion into the financial affairs of the church, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) yesterday sought to quell his concerns.
“The outreach to the non-profit organization (NPO) sector aims to gather information based on assigned risk ratings,” the OAG said in a statement.
“Compliance Unit interviews are being conducted to collect up-to-date information on programs and structures and are not financial audits, as the Christian Council president suggested.
“Most Christian Council members will be considered low-risk, with either a light touch compliance review or no review. However, basic information must be collected for appropriate risk classification.
“In addition, the compliance unit of the OAG will be hosting training sessions in April to assist not-for-profits in understanding know your customer obligations and related procedures.”
Earlier this month, Fernander told Our News that he found out that some churches were “accosted” by members of the state who did site visits and told them “they had to do certain things”.
“We’ve decided to put a committee with this,” Fernander said.
“We will contact all of the churches that have been contacted by the state, find out what has been requested of them. I need members to know that the state is intruding on the church. The separation is being eroded and they want your financial information.
“The church won’t stand for that.”
The compliance reviews of the church and other non profit organizations are requirements under the Non-Profit Organizations Act, 2019.
The Act was passed under the Minnis administration in 2018.
The Act seeks to provide for the regulation of NPOs and to ensure that such organizations are operating in a transparent manner and are not engaged in activities which constitute an identified risk, namely corruption, cybercrime, human trafficking, money laundering, or financing terrorism or proliferation or financing of weapons of mass destruction.
When the bill surfaced in 2018, Fernander said it was an “intrusion of the state into the church”.
In its statement yesterday, the OAG said “guidelines will be developed to assist NPOs in understanding their compliance obligations”.
“The OAG remains open to dialogue with sector stakeholders, as compliance with AML/CFT/CFP international standards is critical to The Bahamas’ ability to transact banking and financial services globally.
“Let us work together to ensure that The Bahamas maintains the AML/CFT/CFP status achieved through hard work over the past five to six years.”
Fernander said he did not expect this to happen under the PLP administration.
“It was this same administration that told us that this was something that they thought was out of whack for the previous administration,” Fernander said.
“It is really disheartening that it is taking place without consultation.”
In 2018, Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper, then an opposition MP, said 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?”