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Turnquest: Government doesn’t want to intrude on non-profits

The Non-Profit Organisations Bill (NPO) will help prevent money laundering in The Bahamas and the financing of terrorism, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest.

“The whole idea behind the NPO bill is rooted in the government’s obligation to ensure that there is no entity that exists in the country that facilitates willingly or unwillingly the financing of terrorism, the proliferation of financing,” Turnquest told reporters outside of Cabinet.

“… The whole idea is to ensure that there is a level of transparency to identify where there is or there isn’t any attempt to use The Bahamas as a financing place or a place to introduce the financing for these illicit or nefarious activities.”

When asked whether past cases of laundering with the intent to fund terrorist acts had been recorded in The Bahamas, Turnquest declined to comment.

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.

Turnquest said, “As I continue to say, the legislation is not intended to be as a watchdog or any kind of, to be intrusive into the activities of these non-profit organizations. That is not the intent as all.

“This is strictly a measure, a tool to allow us to monitor, if you will, any attempt to use non-profit organizations to finance terrorism, to money launder, to help conceal corrupt activities, that’s all it’s about.”

On Monday, the Senate delayed the passing of the bill, citing a 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.

In a statement on Sunday, Civil Society Bahamas 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.

Yesterday, Turnquest said he was surprised by the recent criticism of the bill.

“Honestly, I thought we had gotten past that point and so it is somewhat surprising that we’re getting this feedback at this point. And, again, I think it’s the matter of us having to communicate with them exactly what the intent is and to assure them that this is not a one-sided bill as some have put it,” he said.

“This is really about protecting the interests of the country. It is about meeting our international obligations with respect to financial transparency, to ensuring that we are a part of the global fight against terrorism, illicit financing and the fight against corruption in general.”

He said at the end of the day “the provisions of the bill are going to have to go forward” even if that means the language of the bill has to be amended.

The government proposes to enact the NPO bill before the end of the year, according to Bethel.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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