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Org: Ncia Bill 'Raises Flags' For Us

By Rashad Rolle

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE Organisation for Responsible Governance has raised concerns over the National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill that was passed in the House of Assembly last week.

The bill gives expansive powers to a secretive organisation that would conduct clandestine intelligence gathering activities.

Matt Aubry, executive director of ORG, said the government did not consult civil society on the bill even though it was publicly released in 2017. He said mechanisms that could ensure the law is not abused are non-existent. He agreed with some concerns Progressive Liberal Party leader Philip “Brave” Davis and Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin raised about the bill in the House of Assembly last week.

“I think there were a lot of really important points raised that were similar to concerns that civil society would have about this bill and many of those concerns are similar to pieces that are in other legislation which are quite common,” he said.

“Particularly, a bill like this that has an important component of secrecy in it, it is going to be very important that the mechanisms for accountability are clear, transparent and functional. When I look at the research related to balancing effectiveness of intelligence agencies and transparency, the balance is best struck when you have a very strong focus on enforcement of rule of law and effective bureaucrat methods. If these things are in place, then those that would make the bill ethical and above board tend to unfold. When there’s not a great history then you would want to make sure that those mechanisms are bolstered, not only in the bill itself but within mechanisms outside of it.”

When the Minnis administration tabled the National Intelligence Agency Bill in 2017, an Ombudsman Bill and an Integrity Commission Bill were tabled simultaneously. Mr Aubry said it is concerning those bills, which would enhance accountability, have not been debated and passed in the House while the Intelligence Agency bill, which has been amended since it was tabled in 2017, has been advanced to the Senate. 

“When they came out as a cluster it made sense at that point,” he said. “If you’re going to go forward with something concerning intelligence, you would have mechanisms like the independence of an integrity commission or the independence of a public ombudsman that can act as a voice of the people which would look out for their interests.

“When those three things came out at the same time, there was a sense that if they all come together you have to understand them in context of one another. Here we are now and we see that although this bill has moved forward, it’s going in place without anything that would bring accountability. Another concern we have related to timing is that the Freedom of Information Act is still not fully enacted. Through that process, the FOIA would’ve established an information commissioner and that commissioner was supposed to develop a means test which would allow him to discern what information could be brought forward related to public interest as well as what information would compromise national security.

“And if you have a bill like the National Crime Intelligence Agency come into play it would seem that almost by definition they’re going to define what is national security without the interplay and balance of an information commissioner who is by his charge looking out for access of information for the public. If all of these things were in play it would be a different environment. Without them this raises concerns. When dealing with legislation like this, you have to consider how functional it would be and also how it could be used to further the interests of an individual or an agenda and some of the elements that were raised related to the director taking directions from the minister and the minister being bound to Cabinet is concerning. That the review committee is encompassed entirely of parliamentarians which is a global standard is concerning as well because there’s no other mechanism in place to really oversee this. All of these things raise flags for us.”

Last week, Mr Davis said the NCIA Bill had elements which are “dangerous” and “unconstitutional”.

The bill calls into question the independence of the body and appears to leave the door open to political interference. This is seen in clause eight of the bill outlining that the director of the NCIA “shall be subject to the directions of the minister”.

It continues that the minister may from time to give general or specific directions to the director relating to the functions or exercise of the agency’s powers.

The NCIA Bill further gives the agency the authority to “use any force as is necessary and reasonable to achieve the objectives” of a search warrant. Contained in clause 28 of the bill, the provision brings into question who is able to quantify what is defined and reasonable and necessary and how this can be done.

Comments

DDK 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Absolutely concur with ORG's concerns. This Bill, especially on its own, is draconian and a harbinger of things to come.

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birdiestrachan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Henfield and" We March" protested against this bill. Now they have gone silent.

Henfield and "WE MARCH" came out to close to election. They were the tools of the FNM or the Drama King and who funded them and bought the BLACK SHIRTS with the white lettering.

And run come see who marched with them a former judge and many FNM;s The plot thickens.

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birdiestrachan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Doc and Johnson said it was a bad bill they made it worse and passed it. Hypocrites Indeed.

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Hoda 8 months, 3 weeks ago

But it is OK, for the former govt to have been operating an intelligence division without legislation. You need to get a life.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 8 months, 3 weeks ago

And you Roda, like most Bahamians, soon won't have a life if this bill ever becomes law!

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Hoda 8 months, 3 weeks ago

State surveillance should always be minimal, privacy is important, whatever concerns the state may have in this post 9/11 world - everyone hopes the persons privacy well be respected and never haphazardly denigrated.

Nonetheless, Read Bahamas Read, clearly all I was commenting on his the posters concern with what Minister said the former govt did or didn't do - giving that NIA apparently been in existence without legislation. So yes, I think a NIA with power defined by law is better than an NIA operating without any legislation in existence.

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Sickened 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Before any bills are passed one has to consider how the slime in the PLP will use it for their own personal gain, if possible. Anything put in place has to have a strong and clear anti-corruption mechanism built in otherwise it will be used for pure evil by the PLP. You can actually hear the PLP chomping at their bits when they realize there is a record amount of government revenue coming in and how well the economy is going. Their personal piggy bank (i.e. the consolidated fund) will most likely be flush with cash during the next general election, thanks to the FNM. The PLP drains the bank then throws the election so that the FNM can't build the cash pile back up for them.

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birdiestrachan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

NO Games seems to be in a great big hurry to pass this bill. Will he be the Minister mentioned?? The one with all the power, This is a frightening situation.

Dames said the PLP was profiting from the previous bill. But he did not say how.

All this brings to mind the Frank Smith case.

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John 8 months, 3 weeks ago

All the agents are quiet today... U S holiday the racist regime

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