Mr Speaker Sir, it is in this context that this Bill seeks to clean up the space within which PVOs may operate. For some time now, the Government has noticed that some so-called charities have completely bypassed the Private Voluntary Organisations Act by forming “trusts” sanctioned by the High Court. This is a device that is specifically permitted by the Act because originally Mr Speaker, the Government did not want to discourage families or individuals from forming a family or private trusts to benefit family members or members of the public using their own wealth. It is still not our intention Mr Speaker to impose registration on these kinds of private trusts. However, if it appears that any trust is using for “charity purposes” foreign money not generated by their own activities or investments, or using money collected from members of the public at large, then they must be required somehow to register as a PVO under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act. We want such trusts to be accountable in the eyes of the public on the sources of their funds and the use to which they are put.
Mr Speaker Sir, I realise that the procedures for registration under the Act need to be streamlined and expedited. This is why some of these charities have chosen the route of forming trusts sanctioned by the High Court. We cannot run the risk of charities of a public character being used as a cover for theft, embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering or partisan political activity.
Mr Speaker Sir, I will not at this stage, undertake a clause-by-clause analysis of this Bill. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill admirably suits that purpose, I encourage Hon. Members to read it carefully. However, we have taken suggestions from stakeholders on how to improve its provisions.
Just yesterday, the Government through me – I personally undertook consultations with Civil Society organisations (CSOs) to improve this Bill. The CSOs indicated their willingness to co-operate with us to improve the Bill in certain key respects. In particular Mr Speaker Sir, they suggested improvements to the composition of the PVO Board to ensure a fair representation of a cross-section of PVOs and CSOs, from a list of nominees, supplied to the Minister by an umbrella organisation of PVOs and CSOs. Mr Speaker Sir, we are willing to seriously consider their suggestions in that regard. Also, they undertook to explore Committee Stage amendments to the Bill to better refine the Minister’s powers to intervene in the operations of PVOs in a manner more consistent with rights bestowed by our Constitution, especially the freedom of association.
Mr Speaker Sir, more importantly, the CSOs agreed to assist us with the reformation of Clause 6 of the Bill, which seeks to criminalise the politicization of charitable activities. We do not want our PVOs to operate in a climate of fear in which they feel they may be subjected to criminal prosecution because they might unwittingly involve themselves in partisan political activities. For example Mr Speaker, we do not wish to punish a PVO for assisting women to become candidates in national and local elections. However, we do look with extreme disfavour upon PVOs that abuse their resources by acting in a partisan manner, for instance by favouring communities on the basis of their supposed or expected political affiliation. Mr Speaker Sir, we look forward as the Government, to CSOs helping us to frame an appropriate criminal offence in this regard.
With these words, I urge Hon. Members to support this Bill, which is intended to promote a better, safer and more conducive environment for the operation of PVOs in our country. I move that the Bill be now read a second time Mr Speaker Sir. I thank you.
Mr Speaker Sir, I understand that the report is not ready. I move for the adjournment of the debate so that the Committee can first present their report.