By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A non-profit’s need to “get creative” so it could access a major donation from Aliv highlights why civil society wants the law to impose “accountability” for the sector’s timely registration.
Mark Palmer, Civil Society Bahamas’ secretary, recounted to Tribune Business how Friends of the Blood Bank at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) had to alter its founding documents, and incorporate itself as a regular Bahamian company, in order to access vital funding that was used to acquire a van to support the facility.
“We really do want some accountability on the registrar [of Non-Profits] to deliver registration,” Mr Palmer told Tribune Business. “It should be strengthened. The Attorney General [Carl Bethel QC] was arguing cases which were the exception to the rule.
“It takes so long that it’s rare that we find a new non-profit (NPO) is able to register within two years, which is very detrimental to the sector. We, Friends of the Blood Bank, had to incorporate as a Bahamian company and change the memorandum and articles of association.
“Aliv wanted to see governance, incorporation and board accountability. The only way to do that was incorporate, which cost us more money. That was the only way of getting this money. There was no way of getting this registration [as a non-profit] done in time,” he explained.
“We were able to buy a van for the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA), which was a fantastic initiative. We had to be creative to accomplish that. I know how slow the system is. We really need to get some accountability. We want to grow this sector over the next three to six years so we need to get this going quickly.”
Civil Society Bahamas, in public statements on the proposed Non-Profit Organisations Bill, has questioned whether the Registrar of Non-Profit Organisations had the capacity to be converted from an information gatherer to a regulator. It fears this will exacerbate the current two-year wait for non-profit registration into “a significant backlog”.
Mr Palmer said Bahamian profits could not afford to “sit twiddling their thumbs” waiting for registration applications under the new legislation to be approved, with Civil Society Bahamas having warned: “It is currently taking two years to register non-profits, and the increased information required under this Bill for registration is anticipated to cause a significant backlog and does not augur well, evidencing an equal lack of the Government’s capacity for implementation.”
Following Friday’s meeting with Mr Bethel, Civil Society Bahamas again raised concerns about the lack of accountability when it came to the speedy registration of the non-profit sector.
Dr Anthony Hamilton, its president, said: “The BVI Act, which the Government apparently benchmarked, provides that within 30 working days of receiving a registration application from an NPO, the Registrar must consider it and if satisfied that the applicant complies with the requirements for registration, approve the application.
“This provides a level of accountability that currently does not exist within our Registrar. It often takes two years or more to register as a new non-profit. While we commend the Government’s commitment to significantly simplify the registration requirements within the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, without this important safeguard we fear non-profit registration will continue to be a daunting task.”
Meanwhile, Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) yesterday denied that it had sought to make the Government “bow” to pressure to change the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, adding that it did not want to be “confrontational” on the matter.
The group, which purports to represent over 300 non-profit and civil society groups, said: “By releasing information from the meeting, CSB wanted to let our partners and members know about the various positive issues that the Attorney General had asked draftspersons in his office to make. It was not CSB’s intention in any way to be seen as trying to ‘force the Government’s hand’.”
Dr Hamilton added: “In hindsight we should have clarified that the discussions were mutually agreed upon for public discussion. We have reached out to the Attorney General today to reassure him of our intention to continue to consult in good faith. We believe the Attorney General will take the necessary steps to make this Bill as positive as possible for our sector, and we look forward to seeing the Bill again, once the drafting is complete.”
Mr Palmer added: “CSB is committed to national development planning through the achievement of sustainable development and environmental goals. Constructive dialogue is an important part of this process, and it is our intention to establish civil society as a trusted and valuable partner in the tripartite process. As this is a relatively new process, there will be teething issues, and we will do all we can to improve the process and make that engagement as constructive as possible.”