ORG expresses concern over intelligence agency bill
The National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill (NCIA) allows too much potential for carrying out a political agenda, Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Executive Director Matt Aubry said yesterday.
Aubry said that while ORG understands the importance of an intelligence agency’s role in modern governance and national security, the powers allotted to the minister of national security are concerning.
The bill, which was passed in the House of Assembly last week, seeks to establish a government agency to gather intelligence on those who pose a threat to the national security of The Bahamas.
The intelligence 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 components of this law that I think raise concern relate to the powers within the law with the minister, who has the power to direct the director,” Aubry said.
“The director is intended to be somebody that is above board that demonstrates and lives and follows ethical standards and doesn’t pander to any political agenda.
“But in a scenario where the minister, who is going to be appointed by the prime minister, is directly the person that supervises and has oversight and direction of that position, it does create potential that, in the worst case, it can be used for a political agenda or maybe not live up to the ethical standards that the bill is intending.”
The bill would also establish a review committee, made up of seven parliamentarians, which would be responsible for the revision of the agency’s performance as well as the investigation of complaints regarding the agency.
Of those seven parliamentarians, two would be nominated by the opposition, and five by the prime minister, a component that was of concern to Aubry, who questioned the committee’s ability to be independent if the prime minister nominates a significant majority of its members.
“The oversight, the review committee, having all parliamentarians is also something that when you look around the world, that’s not unprecedented,” he said.
“Having a parliamentary committee to oversee these things is somewhat standard, but somewhat problematic when we have such an overwhelming balance as we do now in government.
“When you have appointments of those seven individuals, and five of those come from the ruling party, and two being from the opposition, again it doesn’t necessarily create the level of even and independent oversight that you might want.”
Aubry also noted that the passage of the NCIA Bill without movement on the Integrity Commission Bill, Ombudsman Bill or Freedom of Information Act could lead to a lack of checks and balances for the intelligence agency.
“It’s also kind of interesting given that the first National Intelligence Agency Bill that was put forward by this administration was actually tabled on the very same day as the Ombudsman Bill and the Integrity Commission Bill were tabled,” he said.
“At the time when we saw that, we saw these three bills as having some relationship, because you have a scenario where this is an intelligence agency operating. The Integrity Commission would have introduced an independent group that would be able to receive any concerns related to either corruption or any sort of victimization in that space.
“Similarly, the ombudsman, which would really represent and be a public advocate for the citizenry, would be in place.
“But those two bills have not moved forward. We still don’t have full enactment of freedom of information, so this bill being put forward and potentially being enacted before those other three bills are put forward is also of concern.
“So, we would see that the timing on this, if you had all of these in place at the same time, there’s a check and balance, there’s resources that citizens would have where currently, if this bill goes forward without the movement of the other three, it’s somewhat of an unbalanced scenario.”
He added, “These types of agencies are most successful in balancing effectiveness and transparency when there is a strong dedication by a nation to rule of law and to having strong and fair democratic processes, so I would say that as this goes forward, those two things become something that we make sure are in place so that this can be a balanced piece of legislation, and the agency is meeting its intended purpose.”