Members of Parliament yesterday passed the National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill (NCIA), 2019, which seeks to establish a government agency to gather intelligence that poses a threat to the national security of The Bahamas.
The opposition did not support the bill.
Shadow Minister of National Security Glenys Hanna-Martin said the bill is a “dangerous piece of legislation in its current form”.
The Minnis administration tabled the National Intelligence Agency Bill in September 2017, but last month, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames tabled a new version of the bill.
“[The] NCIA must and will operate within the clear frameworks of law so as to counter genuine threats to national security,” Dames said as he led off debate on the bill.
“Similarly, controls will be considered so as not to allow for the abuse of powers.
“Equally important, there must also be void of political interference. No government and/or group will be able to or exert pressure on the agency to perform intelligence gathering on organizations or individuals if there is no direct concern with genuine threats to national security.
“More directly, the agency should never engage or imply any services or favors to any political party over another.”
The agency will have three main purposes: coordinating intelligence gathering and joint strategic planning among the heads of national law enforcement agencies; collecting information and intelligence with respect to activities that may, on reasonable grounds, be suspected of constituting threats to the people and security of The Bahamas; and coordinating effective networking between regional and international partners.
The bill will also allow for the appointment of a director, who will be selected by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition.
The bill also restricts publication of the identities of NCIA agents, except the director, and imposes a $10,000 fine or one-year imprisonment if someone does otherwise.
Upon coming to office, the government disbanded the NIA, which had been in operation for five years under the Christie administration without legislation to govern it.
The Christie administration repeatedly promised to bring a bill to govern the NIA, but failed to do so.
Dames said the agency worked in isolation with no respect and support from local law enforcement agencies inclusive of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, the Customs Department and the Department of Immigration.
“As a matter of fact, the leadership within these agencies stated that it was never communicated how this mysterious unit functioned and its purpose in the collective fight against crime,” he said.
“Subsequently, during our assessment of the unit, it confirmed the concerns, as expressed, by our local law enforcement leaders.
“We were therefore left with no other choice but to disband the unit until we were able to enact appropriate legislation that would govern such an agency and bring about a level of transparency and respect for the law in our democratic society.”
The opposition took issue with several provisions of the bill, specifically the way the director is appointed.
However, Dames pointed out that the former director of the NIA not only worked out of the minister’s office, but also ran as a candidate for the Progressive Liberal Party in the last election.
Hanna-Martin said yesterday that the government ought to delay the bill in order to allow for appropriate education and further consultation.
She said the bill is not transparent or accountable and is “wide open” for political influence.
Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis also criticized the bill for its political oversight and said it was a “spy bill”.
He questioned how the legislation would work when politicians are being spied on and insisted that, “It is our view that the agency ought to be an autonomous body with perhaps parliamentary overview.”
Davis also claimed that there was an NIA bill under the last administration, but a consensus on a final draft was never made due to significant challenges with some of the provisions.
Davis also took issue with the fact that the minister of national security has the sole ability to add or delete from the category of offenses in the bill. He said changes to the list of offenses should require parliamentary approval.
Before the passage of the bill, Davis claimed that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis promised him that the bill would be kept in committee for further review.
However, Minnis was not present in the House for the vote.