By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Civil Society Bahamas yesterday pledged to identify all the country’s non-profit groups and produce a valuation of their worth, as the Government delayed moving forward with controversial legislation to regulate the sector.
Dr Anthony Hamilton, acting president of the umbrella organisation that represents local non-profit and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), praised the Government for its decision temporarily postpone passage of the Non-Profit Organisations Bill to allow for further consultation with the sector.
“We are very pleased that they have taken that position. We have made several recommendations to the Government on the bill,” said Dr Hamilton.
Civil Society Bahamas, which purports to represent over 300 non-profit and civil society groups, at the weekend argued that there were numerous sections in the bill “which raise significant concerns for the future health of the civil society sector”.
It warned that many groups will be unable to meet “the strict registration, accounting and record keeping demands” set out in the bill given that 40 percent of the industry is thought to operate on an annual budget of $25,000 or less.
It also questioned whether the Registrar of Non-Profit Organisations had the capacity to be converted from an information gatherer to a regulator, expressing fears that the legislation will exacerbate the current two-year wait for non-profit registration into “a significant backlog”.
The Non-Profit Organisations Bill, which represents The Bahamas’ response to demands for enhanced scrutiny of the sector to prevent its abuse by financial criminals and terrorists, requires all such organisations to be registered with the Registrar of the same name.
Dr Hamilton, though, called for the Non-Profit Organisations Bill to be combined with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Bill that had been in existence since 2015, and circulated for consultation with both the Government and industry groups.
“There is an absolute need for a mapping and valuation of the sector, and that is what we undertake to do,” said Dr Hamilton. “We want to ensure the proper identification of the various NGOs and CSOs, and to ensure that we have no overlaps.
“Society would be better served without the duplication of these various efforts, and everyone can work more efficiently if we know who is doing what. We also need to determine the actual contributions to the society at large. Mapping of the sector and valuation are two additional steps we have taken within the wider grouping.”
Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, yesterday requested that the Senate postpone debate on the the Non-Profit Organisations Bill until next week to allow for further review and the possible incorporation of recommendations from civil society.
He added that he had received substantial feedback and comments from Civil Society Bahamas, and requested that the bill be left in the committee stage so that drafters within the Attorney General’s Office could assist with a review of the suggestions and their incorporation into the bill without impacting its overall intent.
“We are a reasonable government, a government that is prepared to accept positive suggestions to improve on our initiatives; necessary criticism where it is so; and to act in a positive way and through meaningful dialogue with all partners. It is not our intention to disregard the well-meaning and positive contributions of all who could assist us,” said Mr Bethel.
He said the delay does not affect the other financial services industry bills passed in the House of Assembly last week, which need to be enacted by December 31. Still, Mr Bethel said the Government still plans to enact the Non-Profit Organisations Bill by year’s end.
He added that the Bill is to comply with the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which has found The Bahamas “woefully” deficient in its monitoring of non-profit groups.