Senator for Churches Requests Same Level of Scrutiny for Politicians Under Non-Profit Organization Bill
Senators spent most of the morning ventilating concerns over the Non-Profit Organization Bill that was brought down from the National Assembly. This NPO Bill serves to regulate non-profit organizations, to protect them from financial abuse and to fulfill the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force as they relate to combatting the financing of terrorism. Senator for the Churches, Bishop Moses Benguche rose to say that while the Churches will accept this Bill, he would want to ask that politicians undergo the same level of scrutiny as will be done to non-profit organizations.
Bishop Alvin Benguche, Senator: “We have to ask ourselves how does the church fit into a bill of this nature? Where now we are asked to be listed under NPO and that which will bring us under certain restriction. The church will support what is here before us today but we need to go further insofar as the church is concerned. We could have asked that as a part of the undertaking today the scrutiny of political parties and individuals politically connected through sporting organizations that they too be a part of the whole scrutiny in a bill of this nature. But we are not. We are going by good faith. And having said all that Madam President the church has been given an undertaking that it is important enough that other legislations separate and apart from what is here in this bill be undertaken on behalf of the church. But Madam President I must also debunk something that has been said and has been going around the circle. That the church or churches is a high risk grouping for money laundering and the accessibility to terrorist groups and other groupings and I am saying, and this doesn’t come from me this comes from some of our responsible lawyers who we would have gotten advice from, that in actuality the church is low risk insofar as money laundering is concerned and so I just want to ensure that we put that out there. But having said all that Madam President it is important to note that I recognize and it is not a matter of feeling jealous in any way but I recognize that there times and I follow the news quite often and I read both the media electronic and print that there are times when other views are out there and the views of other groupings are more emphasized by the media. I’ve come to recognize that there are times when the church voice is not heard as much. It is important to note and I want the media that is here to recognize that because this bill affects the church in a very salient way and affects the schools that we have responsibility for in a very salient way I want the message, I want to assist us in getting out the message that for us as the church it is important to recognize again I will say that we have some things to be ironed out in the bill.”
As for Senator for the Unions, Elena Smith, she is curious as to how this Bill affect schools when it comes to fundraising events. She added that there is the needed a better understanding of the Bill and its ramifications.
Elena Smith, Senator: “A few questions and at this point I don’t have sufficient clarity for me to be able to properly understand the effect that this bill would have on our schools and that is very important to me because as we all know the BNTU is a part of the NTUCB. In terms of our schools we know that our schools go through the ministry where you apply or the churches apply to operate schools and you do that through the Ministry of Education and I am not aware that there is any correlation between the churches having to apply as NGO or now NPO and those schools will be listed under that application. So for us while there may be a few schools that have been incorporated you would understand that they would fall under this bill but for example the other schools that are just managed by the churches for example how do we fall under this and what would be the implications? I will reiterate our position that we fully support compliance, we fully support being accountable and we fully support because we don’t want to have issues that will put a black eye on the country we are aware of that and we fully support that but I need to get those explanations, those ways in which I can feel satisfied that I fully understand what will be the impact on those schools if any so that we could know how to address those.”
After all was said and done, Government Business, Eamon Courtenay, rose to say that he will not engage in any heated debate over the bill as it is evident that non-profit organizations are often used to engage in money laundering and other illegal activities.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator, Government Business: “I have indicated to all the senators that the bill will go into committee and the director of the Financial Intelligence Unit is here and will be available to respond to the questions that have been posed. Madam President I do not intend to get into any blaming nor will I get into any casting any aspersion as to which organization is money laundering or is financing terrorism. All of that is available on the internet. Like Senator Herrera, when I listened to the bishop I googled “churches money laundering” I expected to get a blank page. it wasn’t a blank page. 2021 Cardinals, bishops from the Vatican where the Pope lives criminally indicted for money laundering.Next story non traditional church in Guatemala used to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking. I repeat the issue here Is not whether the church, whether a school, whether any nonprofit organization is involved in money laundering, financing of terrorism. My mind went back to Sanctuary Bay. Central to Sanctuary Bay was something called Sittee River Wildlife Reserve a nonprofit totally unregulated. I refer to these things to set a context. There is real risk out there. Whilst this is being rushed, while this is being forced on us at this time it is in response to risk that exists within Belize and outside of Belize.”
During today’s session of the Senate, the Bill did go into a committee gathering where the Senators were able to field questions for further clarity on the NPO Bill. Love News understands that once the Bill is passed it will see the creation of new offices for a Registrar and Deputy NPO Registrar, and will give them the authority to register and regulate the activities of the NPOs.