With all the recent hubbub about the Citizen Kim and his Penner connection - one controversial piece of legislation that went to the house of representatives last week hasn't gotten the media attention it deserves. There is the Non Government Organizations Amendment Bill. Its part of an entire raft of legislation basically forced upon Belize by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force to introduce uniform and quite oppressive legislation to discourage money laundering. But, it introduces onerous fines to the benign NGO Community and yesterday, one senator called it union busting:...
Senator Mark Lizarraga
"I hope this is not an attempt of NGO busting, I mean, we have to very careful that mistakes - genuine mistakes can happen, but the law it seems at least the way we read is very inflexible in certain areas and can kill a legitimate NGO for a mistake that one of its staff members may have made."
Senator Lisa Shoman
"This law puts into place not only greatly inflated fines. In other words the court could fine a person up to an amount of $100,000 or an NGO of up to $300,000. And if that were not bad enough, the punitive part of it is that courts hands are tied in that you have to fine a person who is found guilty $50,000 even if it's a mistake that they made."
"Whereas, I understand the imperative to satisfy international requirements and I should know these - I was out there long enough. I understand the imperative Jules, but, however we cannot simply blindly pass laws without having consulted them with the NGO community, without seeing as to whether we've included all the necessary ingredients to make sure that the unwitting simply get caught up in something like this and end up in a position where somebody who is volunteering in a NGO ends up before a court answering to a fine of $50,000."
While the "ay's" had it - At the end of the debate on the bill - Senator Shoman called for a division - in which each member has to declare their vote. On the floor, it was split, with three Senators form the opposition and three social partner senators voting against, and six UDP members voting in favour. The President Mark Pech had to use his casting vote to break the deadlock, and pass the legislation.
The bill was also debated in the House last Friday - and here is how the Attorney General defended it:..
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We find ourselves in a very difficult situation because in other countries the business of NGO is becoming so prominent and so profitable and it is being used by some organizations for purposes which are deemed to be less than legitimate that it is in fact thought that these are helping to facilitate money laundering and criminal activities."
"If in fact you have one jurisdiction having a less draconian regime as you have said than other jurisdictions then you will find ourselves swamp with people who are in fact have no legitimate interest in the NGO activity other than to profit from it and we will find ourselves in problems with the financial action task force."
As many as 9 bills passed through the house in this most recent sitting were imposed on Belize by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.