By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Registrar General’s Department has denied claims that it has specifically targeted environmental group Save The Bays in its request for detailed operations and financial records, yesterday underscoring that the agency has given similar notices to nearly 100 other registered non-profits.
The department explained that it was exercising the authority of the registrar general to ensure that all non-profit organisations were compliant with 2014 regulations, so that the country could meet its international obligations concerning regulation of the sector.
“No single non-profit has been targeted,” the statement noted.
“This review of all non-profits on the registry is important to ensure that we are in compliance with our international obligations, preventing the use of non-profits in the Bahamas as vehicles for international criminal activity, including terrorism, and protecting our financial industry which is vital to our national development.
“The Registrar General’s Department pursuant to these regulations, and more specifically regulations three and 13, has therefore sought to ascertain the status of all existing non-profits on its registry. In doing so the Registrar General’s Department is exercising its supervisory and enforcement authority to monitor and regulate non-profit organisations.”
Save The Bays – Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay – filed an application in the Supreme Court last week to block the request and launch a judicial review into the department’s decision. The environmental group believes that the notice is an attempt by the government to obtain “by lawful means” information that had previously been restrained by the courts in a bid to discredit the organisation.
The group has launched four sets of judicial review proceedings in relation to alleged unauthorised construction and Crown land reclamation activities of Lyford Cay fashion mogul Peter Nygard at Nygard Cay, and the failure of the government to take appropriate action, including the prime minister, deputy prime minister, the Town Planning Committee, the director of physical planning and others.
In case documents filed on April 13, Save The Bays Director Joseph Darville said the government’s public statements towards the group became acrimonious in the wake of its harassment civil suit against Mr Nygard and lawyer Keod Smith, and further intensified with the tabling of Save The Bays private emails in Parliament.
The disclosures came as part of a fierce political debate over claims included in the alleged murder-for-hire plot outlined in the court documents in March 2016.
At the time, Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald accused STB of being a political organisation seeking to “overthrow” the Progressive Liberal Party government under the guise of an environmental group. During his contribution in the House of Assembly, Mr Fitzgerald read private emails from STB members and others, which he said bolstered his claims.
For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell claimed that some $8.25m has been filtered through various organisations connected with STB - locally and internationally - from 2013 to 2015.
The following month, Mr Fitzgerald warned members of the environmental group to “batten down” because a “category five” hurricane was on its way, and threatened to table “every single” email and bank statement in his possession if needed to protect his integrity and parliamentary privilege.
Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles ruled in August last year that Mr Fitzgerald infringed on members’ constitutional rights when he tabled the private emails in Parliament, and therefore could not be protected by parliamentary privilege. She also set a permanent ban on further disclosures of confidential information.
Mr Fitzgerald has appealed that ruling.
Records requested by the registrar general include: the organisation’s purpose, objective, and activities; identity of persons who control or direct the activities of the organisation, including senior officers, directors, and trustees; financial records that show and explain the transactions within and outside the Bahamas and that show that the funds of the organisation have been used in a manner consistent with its objective and activities; and the source of the gross annual income of the organisation.
The Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay was registered in 2013 as a non-profit company limited by guarantee, and the organisation is arguing that the 2014 regulations do not retroactively impact pre-existing non-profits nor were there any transitional provisions.
It further points out that the only circumstance provided that would empower the registrar general to request the documents is to assess the extent, if any, to which the registered non-profit is being used to “assist terror financing”.
Yesterday, the Registrar General Department’s statement read: “The ‘extent, if any, to which the registered non-profit organisation is being used to assist terrorist financing’ can only be deduced by sight of the requested documents and an evaluation thereof.”