The Senate yesterday delayed the passage of the Non-Profit Organisations Bill (NPO), citing the need for further consultation with civil society as the reason.
Attorney General Carl Bethel announced the move following criticisms and calls from civil society organizations for the government to amend it.
While opening debate on a compendium of financial services bills in the Senate, Bethel said, “I received some very substantive suggested amendments and comments from an umbrella civil society organization called Civil Society Bahamas.
“And in view of the detail and depth of their commentary, and to accord a fair, earnest and honest consideration of their suggestions, I would request that we not move the passage of the Non-Profit Organisations Bill today, but leave it in the committee stage so that my draftspersons would have time to assist me in a thorough review of the comments and suggestions, so that we might seek to accommodate any positive suggestions, which would not otherwise frustrate the prudential and necessary regulation of this vital sector of the economy and civil society.
“In short, for my colleagues opposite, we’ll put the bill off until next week.
“In the meanwhile, we are going to consult further with civil society, we are going to review their suggestions, we’ll have some discussions with them and we will seek to accommodate those prudential and well-meaning suggestions which would not disrupt the ability of the law to achieve its purpose which is the proper regulation of nonprofits in the country.
“It is anticipated that when the Senate meets next week, we will have by then circulated to colleague senators and to civil society, our views and any suggested amendments which will be able to accommodate the views of civil society before we pass the bill.
“And of course, I actually have to consult with my colleagues in Cabinet, to ensure that they are all on board.”
Bethel said the government is open to the suggestions and criticisms of civil society.
“We are a reasonable government,” he said.
“We are a government that is prepared to accept positive suggestions to improve on our initiatives and necessary criticism where it is so, to react to it in a positive way, and through a meaningful dialogue with all partners, not only in wider society, but here as well with my colleagues opposite.
“We are a reasonable government. And it is not our intention to unilaterally disregard the well-meaning and positive contributions of all who could assist us in passing better laws.”
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.
In a statement on Sunday, Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) said it had requested input from its base of over 300 civil societies and not-for-profit organizations and determined there are a number of areas which raise significant concerns for the future health of the civil society sector.
The group outlined nine key areas of concern in relation to the bill, noting that it 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,” CSB said.
The group requested that the government amalgamate the NPO bill with the Civil Society Organisations 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.
Bethel noted yesterday that the delay in the passage of the NPO bill will not affect the other financial bills.
“This Non-Profit Organisations Bill is a Financial Action Task Force bill, and, so, it is not tied directly to the mandate that it needs to be passed and brought into law before the 31st December deadline, as are the other bills which will be debated today,” he further explained.
“We do, however, propose to enact the NPO bill before the end of December because with Financial Action Task Force we also are now on a compliance plan, with an action plan, that involves addressing the key deficiencies, immediate outcomes in terms of the implementation of the laws to prevent terrorist financing and proliferation financing and money laundering offenses.”
The other bills include the Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, the Commercial Entities (Substance Requirements) Bill, the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bills and the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill.
The bills will bring the country in line with rules set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union (EU), which have threatened to blacklist The Bahamas.