NGO Community takes on GOB over proposed legislation
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- March 15, 2023
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The NGO community is once again at odds with the government. This time over the introduction of a bill aimed at regulating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profit organizations (NPOs). The Non-Profit Organization Bill 2023 was introduced at Friday’s House sitting and, according to the government, seeks to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism. One of the requirements of the bill is that NGOs and NPOs will need to satisfy the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force recommendations. However, the Belize Network of NGOs says the bill came as a surprise because there were no consultations held between them and GOB. NGO Senator, Janell Chanona, says the community is now hoping that GOB can delay the consideration of the bill until meaningful consultations are held.
Janelle Chanona, Senator for Non Governmental Organizations: “Since March 22 BNN and other registered NGOs have been participating in a process led by the Financial Intelligence Unit to look at creating a national assessment for tourism and money laundering nationally and a best practices for NPOs along the same lines. Representatives have participated in good faith. They’ve donated thier time, their expertise, their energy and I think therefore it was interesting for a lack of a better adjective that last week Friday we then hear that a non profit bill is going up in the House and I think that’s because that would have been the opportune mechanism to use to socialize any such draft, to consult not just with the existing NGOs and NPOs but certainly everybody to which this bill would capture. To call out one of the sections is looking that an NPO would be anybody that is accepting contributions or causing contributions to be made, anybody that’s looking to raise funds or causing funds to be raised. So you can appreciate that covers sports, religious, political parties, you know non profit covers every sector and I think it’s very important for everyone to be fully apprised, aware of what is happening with that bill so that they can know how they are being impacted. I think I also need to call out that not just the NGO and NPO sector but on a whole the new platform for registering your company whether it’s for profit or non profit has not been functioning. We’ve been told lots of “glitches” please bear with us and this bill the timeline is on, the Prime Minister introduced it on the 10th of March, it’s looking to go to a House Committee tomorrow the 16th and the Prime Minister mentioned it would go back to the House on the 22nd so it’s almost like this is a foregone conclusion without that consultation and then it also begs once that becomes law that timeline that’s in the law takes effect and you’re talking about within three months a fee being levied and a fine per day of $100 so again it’s critical that everybody is aware before they’re liable, before they’re held accountable to that.”
Senator Chanona explained that since Friday, the NGO community has begun to gather feedback, questions, and recommendations from other stakeholders to present them to the government for consideration.
Janelle Chanona, Senator for Non Governmental Organizations: “We’re having the first of we call it a pop up shop where we’re opening up a virtual platform and anybody with questions, anybody who wants to share concerns can pop in to that virtual conversation, share what they feel, what they’re concerned about so that we can take record of that and present that collectively to the Ministry of Finance. As you saw we did write a letter asking for that time so that we can get this socialised. We haven’t had a response yet I’m still optimistic there will be a response and there will be due consideration to our request and making sure that everybody who needs to be aware of what this bill will be doing because I think the bottom line is that everybody wants to make sure vulnerabilities to money laundering and terrorism is mitigated and eliminated but certainly we want to make sure that civil society is not compromised, undermined, restricted or cancelled in the process. We are asking for the House Committee not to consider it until there’s been consultation so that when the House Committee considered it it has the benefit of everybody’s recommendations so that the House Committee is then better empowered, informed to make that recommendation to rest of parliament. Recall the House Committee is not a decision making body they will only make recommendations to the rest of parliament and we certainly want to give that House Committee the best positioning to do that. The bottom line is we don’t want Belize to be looked at as part of this trend globally and within the region of countries who are using these types of legislation to restrict freedom of expression, to restrict civil liberties, to restrict the work of sustainable development being done by NGOs, NPO’s because certain regimes are uncomfortable with strong voices, with accountability, with transparency etc. We want to make sure Belize is always perceived and felt to be the country with a strong civil society sector that it has always been because of civil society we have the rights and we have those enhanced and we have a democratic strength in that regard.”