PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell. (File photo)
By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
FRED Mitchell criticised the Minnis administration’s handling of the controversial Non-Profit Organisations Bill, insisting that recent delays prove the government failed to do its “homework” on the legislation’s potential impact.
Addressing reporters just after the Senate was officially suspended for the Christmas holidays without commencing debate on the bill, Mr Mitchell launched an attack on the government’s overall approach to the execution of its business.
Mr Mitchell, leader of opposition business in the Senate, said: “The question we keep asking ourselves is how government business is actually being managed? Its legislative agenda, how it is we can predict what it is that they are going (to do), and when things are going to get done? And this bill is a prime example of that.”
“Now clearly, they did not do their homework with regard to this Bill because if they did, the Bill would have not been brought to the point of the Senate, and then you have to make what appears to be significant changes to (it).”
The government has spent much of the last week locked in communication with Civil Society Bahamas, a group of 300 non-profit and civil society groups, over potential amendments to the Bill.
The group has warned many organisations 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.
Civil Society Bahamas has 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.”
Opposition to the bill led Attorney General Carl Bethel to postpone debate on the Bill on December 10. It has already been passed in the House of Assembly.
The Bill is now expected to be debated sometime in January 2019, to allow for further drafting.
Mr Mitchell said: “The Bill is overly bureaucratic, it is intrusive and it appears to us that this is not the way to go at this time … and it needs a lot more work.
“We’ve been in touch with the churches, there is a full-scale revolt and blow-back from the church community on this Bill, and the government is in big trouble if they proceed with this Bill as it presently is.
“All of the predictions were that this had to be done by the 31 of December and so therefore it must be done and so on and so forth. And so, we are brought back here, only of course now to be told we have to be brought back next year.”
He continued: “I got a call from one of the leaders of the church community who says I got 50 pastors and if they proceeded with that Bill today, we were coming down there to show our lack of support or our opposition to these Bills. So clearly, whatever happened over the last few days between the two sides, it didn’t bring them any closer together; and what the attorney general is indicating is that the matter has to go to Cabinet … while all of that is being done, it shows that sufficient care and attention were not giving to putting their ducks in a row before coming to this point.”
Mr Mitchell also suggested elements of the Bill would unfairly target the Progressive Liberal Party’s donor base.
“What we knew is that our impression of the Bill overall was that it was too bureaucratic and expensive and intrusive,” he said, “and for all of those reasons we felt that, certainly, political parties and the church ought to be taken off of the table because this was just a remedy for the state to be interfering in the business of matter which should really be private at this point, unless we go to something else, which is a discussion on publicly funded campaigns.
“I am sorry, no one trusts that and we have said before that this is a cockamamie scheme to try to get at the donor base of the Progressive Liberal Party and eliminate that base. No one can convince me otherwise that is what this is about. And so, we, I believe, ought to mount a resistance to this in full, until there is an agreement on publicly funded campaigning; that’s the difference in the United States, once you have publicly funded campaigning and you take public funds, then you can impose conditions by which people give contributions.”