The government has delayed the passage of the Non-Profit Organisations Bill until 2019, bowing to pressure from Civil Society Bahamas (CSB) and the Bahamas Christian Council. 

The revelation was made in a statement from CSB, which said it met with Attorney General Carl Bethel on Saturday.  

But Bethel yesterday accused CSB of divulging confidential information and said the group is trying to force the government’s hand.

“I’m disappointed that civil society organizations would adopt the kind of posture that is evident by this press statement,” said Bethel when called for comment. 

“A commitment to review is not a commitment to do.

“Yet, to put into the public domain our confidential and private discussions in this way seems to be an attempt to try and force the government’s hand.

“That is not an acceptable way to have a civil discussion.

“I indicated to them in the discussions those changes that I’d already asked draftspersons in my office to make. We had a discussion about that. They raised further points, and we indicated that we would review them.”

In its statement, CSB claimed Bethel said he intended to “revise and rescale” the NPO bill to “more moderate regulation of the sector, in order to comply with FATF”.

“The attorney general also expressed his intention to continue to review the bill for opportunities to minimize damage to the capacity of this important sector,” the statement said.

“To allow for further drafting, the bill is now expected to be debated in the Senate in January 2019.

“Whilst mindful of the many clauses suggested by CSB, including clauses from the 2015 [Civil Society Organisations] CSO bill, the attorney general advised that wide-scale changes that would require the bill to go back to the Lower House, or otherwise significantly delay the objective of developing regulatory standards in the sector would not be considered.”

However, the CSB claimed that the government is prepared to act on several issues, including simplifying the registration process for non-profits and removing the requirement to provide financial requirements; reviewing the language regarding know your customer (KYC) due diligence to “lessen the non-profit organizations’ compliance burden”; waiving fees for existing non-profits; exempting individuals exercising personal charity so they can continue their work without fear of a fine or imprisonment; and raising the level of reportable donations and disbursements from the current level, among other things.

“Subsequent to this constructive meeting, CSB is cautiously optimistic that the drafting language of the bill will be improved to remove ambiguities that could cause problems to the sector,” the statement said.

“Once the bill is redrafted and circulated by the attorney general, CSB will report again.

“CSB is grateful for the good faith shown by the government to revise the bill. However, we remain concerned that political parties will be excluded from the provision of the act.”

The Non-Profit Organisations Bill seeks to regulate non-profit organizations and mandates that each organization register with the government and provide, among other things, evidence of its gross annual income, the identities of its members and evidence of know your customer due diligence.

The bill also mandates that each NPO report donations of $50,000 or more as well as its 10 largest donations.

The Christian Council, along with CSB and other members of the religious and non-profit community, later expressed concerns with the bill.

The bill was passed in the House of Assembly on December 5. However, Bethel announced in the Senate last Monday that passage on the bill would be delayed until today to allow for further consultation.

Bethel confirmed yesterday that the bill will be delayed until January 2019. (Nassau Guardian)