By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION leader Philip “Brave” Davis said yesterday the decision to delay the passing of the Non-Profit Organisations Bill was “prudent,” noting the bill was “fraught with challenges”.
Mr Davis also questioned whether The Bahamas’ “constitutional construct” was considered in the decision to put forth this bill and criticised the prime minister for not contributing to a package of bills inclusive of the NPO legislation in the House of Assembly.
Mr Davis made these comments during his monthly press conference at the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) headquarters, while also addressing the compendium of financial bills that were passed in the Senate on Monday evening.
Mr Davis noted the PLP senators abstained on three of the bills — Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill; Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, and Commercial Entities (Substance Requirements) Bill 2018.
He added the PLP voted against the Penal Code Amendment Bill. This amendment brings tax evasion into the category of criminal acts, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest said last week. Consequently, tax dodgers will be subject to criminal charges before the court.
“In my view, this is 2000 all over again,” Mr Davis said. “We recall how former Prime Minister (Hubert) Ingraham sent a compendium of financial bills from Washington and compelled the House to pass them forthwith. Parliamentarians had not seen them before nor had an opportunity to consult on them.
“I made a point in the Lower House about the reputation damage and extraordinary costs to persons who inadvertently fill out customs forms in a manner that could be perceived as tax evasion and called in by the relevant authorities,” Mr Davis continued.
He added that although police will determine if the courts should deal with such matters, and although the individual may win his or her case, he questioned what cost this ordeal would bring to the person’s “personal reputation, good name, job security and pocket book.”
When asked why the PLP offered bipartisan support for these bills in the House of Assembly last week, Mr Davis said this was done with the understanding that the concerns raised regarding the bills would be addressed.
“If you followed the proceedings, you would have noted that I recommended certain amendments or suggestions…and even asked that some of the bills remained in committee. We were told that most of those concerns, those concerns, (would) be addressed in the Senate…and they would deal with it by way of what they call the ‘slip rule’, requiring it not to come back to the House.
“I didn’t think that that was possible, but I said ‘okay, we’ll see what happens.’ And on that assurance, we gave our support. Now, some movements were suggested in the Senate. I monitored what was going on and the movements did not meet all of the concerns that we had in respect to the bills. In fact, the one move that they did make was in respect to the Non-Profit Bill, which they…either will not be proceeding with or will be looking at for further amendments and consultations.”
He added he was indeed consulted on this decision.
The NPO Bill requires all such organisations to be registered with the registrar of the same name. To become registered, the legislation stipulates that all non-profit groups must show “evidence” that they are compliant with “Know Your Client” stipulations – meaning that they know the sources of their funding, and the background of these donors.
Mr Davis also provided his reaction to this Bill being shelved in the Senate on Monday.
“The NPO Bill was fraught with challenges, and I pointed out some of them. In the parliamentary debate, there’s not sufficient time, in my view, for us to go through all of the issues— we have half an hour.”
Mr Davis noted the House magnanimously allowed him to speak for longer than that to point out as many issues with the bills as he could.
“The NPO Bill, I think it was prudent of them not to proceed with it because it has its challenges. And the churches have to be concerned about it. I know that the president of the (Bahamas Christian Council) they have their concerns about the bills… In fact, the sporting communities also have concerns about the bills, because if you’re part of a softball team, that’s a group of persons who come together to promote…that individual sport. And they could be captured by the bill. And so, more thought has to be given on it.
“See the challenge is that our culture, our constitutional construct, are different from many of the groupings that formulate…initiatives to ensure that…revenues don’t leak from their jurisdiction to offset jurisdictions. And they don’t take into account those differences.
“And sometimes we have to sit back…and look at these things in our particular construct… to determine whether or not it is repugnant to our constitutional revisions. And I don’t know that much thought would have gone into any of these things.”
Mr Davis also criticised Dr Minnis for his lack of contribution to these bills.
“Now what is significant, which ought to give all of us pause, is that with such significant incursions in a pillar of our economy that has served our country well, that the prime minister has yet to make a contribution to these bills. Have you heard from him?
To this, a PLP supporter shouted: “He’s in the (Junkanoo) shack!”
“Oh, sorry. I’m advised he’s in the shack,” Mr Davis replied, to chuckles from those in the room.