By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WHEN it comes to compliance of non-profit organisation regulations, the Office of the Attorney General is open to creating special arrangements with NPOs similar to what it has arranged for churches.
“The attorney general says the office is prepared to talk to non-profits on a case-by-case basis,” Press secretary Anthony Newbold said yesterday.
“Any non-profit who believes they have a case to present to the attorney general for why they shouldn’t be subjected to whatever those rules are, go on and see the attorney general or someone in the office and they will determine after consultations whether you indeed have a case.”
In July, the Registrar General’s Department listed hundreds of NPOs in newspapers that it said were required to submit information explaining their purpose, objectives and activities, the source of their annual income, the identities of the people who own, control and direct them and annual financial statements or other financial records while also explaining their transactions in and outside The Bahamas.
In an era of global concern about terrorism and terrorism-funding, such regulations are a way governments provide oversight of the NPOs, addressing their money laundering and terrorism financing related risks.
Churches, however, said the regulations are too intrusive.
Their protest resulted in the government entering a special arrangement with the Bahamas Christian Council in which churches could, BCC President Bishop Delton Fernander has said, “self-regulate” their activities.
Under the arrangement, the information that could be requested under the regulations would be assessed by accountants who will report about them to the Registrar General’s Department.
Only in suspicious cases would accountants directly turn the information over to the registrar general.
Until now, it had been unclear whether this arrangement applied to non-church NPOs as well.
Attorney Fred Smith, whose own organisations have been notified to comply with the regulations, has criticised the government’s arrangement with churches.
“We no longer live in the secret darkness of the PLP and this government has a mandate to transact government transparently and it should be no part of the attorney general’s function to be making secret deals with individual NPOs so that every one of the thousands are treated differently,” he said yesterday.
“How on earth is the attorney general’s department going to function if it has to deal with thousands of different NPOs making a case by case submission? This is absurdly subjective regulations and is an extra unnecessary layer of bureaucratic red tape.”
Mr Smith, QC, believes the government’s interpretation of the regulations is flawed and that the registrar general cannot demand that NPOs submit private information unless it suspects one of engaging in money laundering or terrorist funding.
In its July announcement, the Registrar General’s Department gave NPOs 14 days to comply with its notification. That date was later extended for churches. It’s unclear if the department has enforced that timeline for other NPOs.