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Compendium of Bills To Avoid Blacklisting

Peter Turnquest

The government is  hoping to get consensus on a compendium of bills essentially aimed at ensuring The Bahamas is not again blacklisted.

Such a  decision  could very well result in an undermining of the country’s competitiveness and growth development, causing serious damage to its reputation.

Leading off the debate in the House of Assembly yesterday morning was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Peter Turnquest, who said the idea is to send the message to the international community that The Bahamas is open for legitimate business.

“The new provisions contained within these Bills seek to preserve The Bahamas’ position as a significant global financial services center.

“And to enhance our value proposition as a premier jurisdiction of choice, for the conduct of quality wealth management, asset management and asset protection services, in compliance with international regulatory standards,” he added.

The bills include the Commercial Entities (substance requirements) Bill, the Removal of Preferential Exemptions Bill, the Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill, the Penal Code (amendment) Bill and the Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) Bill.

The latter enhances the integrity and mitigates against abuse by such entities.

It calls for all NPOs to be registered and provide details on its purpose and objective.

As the Minister  explained, it also imposes a strict requirement for NPOs to maintain detailed financial statements to demonstrate that its funds have been applied in a manner consistent with its objectives.

“It is not the intent of the government to interfere or to monitor, other than for its defined purposes, the activity of any organization be [it] religion, civic, social, that is not the intent of this bill,” he said. 

“The over-riding objective of this bill is to provide for regulations to ensure that non-profit organizations are operating in a transparent manner and are not engaged in activities which constitute an identified risk as defined in the Proceeds of Crime Act (ch 92); namely activities involving corruption, cybercrimes, human trafficking, money laundering, or financing of terrorism or proliferation or financing of weapons of mass destruction,” said Mr. Turnquest.

However,  Opposition Deputy leader  Chester Cooper  said while he supports this compendium of bills, the government seeking such deep insight into non-profits like churches, lodges and fraternities, and not seeking to have political parties subject to the same disclosure is “troubling.

“Asking non-profit companies and all non-profit organizations to identify their assets on a balance sheet and a profit and loss statement does away with any semblance of confidentiality,” he said. 

“This is a completely new paradigm for The Bahamas, which will, honestly, be very unpopular and be met with much push back from non-profits and, in particular, the churches who will view this as a severe and sudden intrusion.

“Some might likely see it as a suppression of small churches which are the bedrock of some small communities,” he added.

“I do need to understand why this level of disclosure is needed by non-profits,” said Mr. Cooper.

Meantime,  the Penal Code Amendment Bill makes it an offense to defraud the government of its revenue.

In supporting the bills, however, the Exuma and Ragged Island MP said the Opposition does have serious reservations about some the measures included, and feel that further amendments were needed before getting to this point. 

The  Finance Minister said, “Our reservations are trumped by the realities of what will undoubtedly befall us if we do not move on this before the end of the year.

“To not act, to not implement these measures, that we may see the need to amend in the future, we are advised, will surely mean blacklisting,” he said.

“It is almost as if we are acting with a gun to our heads.

“To be blacklisted will mean an almost immediate loss of clients who don’t want to be in a jurisdiction perceived to be less regulated and that may attract sanctions.

“To not act will mean the loss of international banking relationships for the very same reasons.

“To not act means that even outside of the financial services industry, banks will have to do additional due diligence, even on Bahamians and residents.

“To not act means that even local insurance companies will be forced by re-insurers to do additional bureaucratic steps to sign new business.

“To not act means that banks will very seriously risk losing their correspondent banks. 

“If  they don’t  have correspondent banks, local banks will be disconnected from the international network of banks and will effectively be out of business.

“To not act means that businesses and business persons operating in The Bahamas will be viewed with a jaundiced eye since they are perceived to be operating in a shady jurisdiction.

“To not act is not an option, ” said the Minister.

Minister Turnquest has stressed the need for the bills to be passed by December 31, as the European Union  will be putting pen to paper later this month to compile another black list to be published in January.

The Bahamas is doing its best to avoid being named.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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