The National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill (NCIA), 2019, was passed in the Senate yesterday.
The contentious bill, which seeks to establish a government agency to gather intelligence on those who pose a threat to the national security of The Bahamas, has raised concerns in different circles due to its political oversight and has been opposed by the Progressive Liberal Party.
During her contribution to the Senate debate on the bill, opposition Senator JoBeth Coleby-Davis said in its present form, the bill “is ripe for harmful and mischievous abuse” and urged the Minnis administration to “park this bill”.
Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) Executive Director Matt Aubry has also expressed concerns about the bill, noting that it allows too much potential for carrying out a political agenda.
However, Attorney General Carl Bethel insisted yesterday that the agency will only be utilized for national security risks and not for monitoring the personal lives of citizens.
“We are very happy that the National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill has been passed,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.
“…The bill is in fine form. We think it’s a good bill. It will assist The Bahamas in [managing] challenges that can only best be found out about by the use of intelligence gathering mechanisms. These challenges that include, of course, threats to national security, threats to our constitutional order, threats to democracy, terrorism and other identified risks set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“And, of course, in the first schedule to the bill is a list of very serious crimes which are the only matters that the crime agency would be concerned about.
“It’s not concerned about people’s personal lives, who they may be friends with or whatever.
“It’s not concerned with your business. It’s only concerned with the most serious criminal offenses and threats to the national security of this country, whether foreign or domestic.
“The entire operations of the agency will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, through the committee that is designed to review all actions by the NCIA during the course of its operations, and to receive complaints of any alleged abuse from the general public and to investigate those.”
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.
PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis, who has referred to the bill as a “spy bill”, has said that should the PLP win the next election, it will repeal some provisions in the bill.