Bill would give agency general powers of inquiry, search, arrest and seizure
NASSAU, BAHAMAS- The proposed National Crime Intelligence Agency (NCIA) Bill, 2019, would establish an Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament that would be responsible for the administration of finances for the agency, the general review of its performance and investigate any complaints in relation to the NCIA.
Minister of National Security Marvin Dames tabled the bill in Parliament yesterday.
According to the bill, the committee, referred to as the Review Committee, shall consist of seven parliamentarians – five from the House of Assembly and two from the Senate.
The bill provides for the leader of the opposition to nominate two members – one from the Lower Chamber and another from the Upper Chamber, while the prime minister would have three nominations from the House and two from the Senate.
The review committee would have the power to consider any particular operational matter of the agency, except in cases where it is part of an ongoing intelligence operation or of “significant national interest”, the bill notes.
These reviews would be conducted in private.
The committee would also be responsible for submitting an annual report to the prime minister, following which it would table the document in Parliament.
Matters considered prejudicial to the continued discharge of the agency could be excluded from that report — a decision made by the prime minister after consultation with the Review Committee.
The NCIA would be mandated to mandated to coordinate intelligence gathering and joint strategic planning among the various law enforcement agencies; collect intelligence related to threats to the nation’s security; and network with regional and international partners.
Additionally, the NCIA would conduct investigations to provide security assessments for the National Security Council; and assist the minister of foreign affairs in collecting information or intelligence relating to “capabilities, intention or activities of any foreign state, foreign powers or group of foreign states or foreign powers”.
The agency would be headed by the director, a position appointed by the government general, acting of the advice of the prime minister, who would consult with the leader of the opposition.
According to the proposed legislation, the agency would be limited to “what is necessary for the purposes of the discharge of its functions”.
It would be autonomous and free from influence or consideration not relevant to its primary mandate, the bill notes.
The director would be responsible for ensuring nothing is done by the agency that might lend support to “any suggestion that it is concerned to further protect the interests of any particular section of the community, political party or with any matters other than the discharge of its functions”.
The bill notes that the minister, may from time to time, by written notice give to the director of the agency directions of a general of specific nature related to the performance of the body or the exercise of its power or the exercise of the powers of the director.
Anyone outside of the review committee who publicizes a photograph or matter, which identifies an officer, employee or agent of the NCIA without written consent of the prime minister or director would commit an offense, and would be subject upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year.
According to the bill, the director, agents and other employees of the agency “shall be peace officers” in performing the duties of the agency, and have the same protection as peace officers.
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 introduce legislation to mandate its purview, but failed to do so.
In January, nearly a year and a half after the Minnis administration tabled legislation to reestablish the NIA, Dames said he hoped to pass the legislation within the first quarter of the year.
Power, search and seizure
The agency would be authorized with general powers of inquiry, search, arrest and seizure.
The agency would also have the authority to seize postal items.
A judge would have to issue a warrant for the agency to open the items and inspect the contents.
The bill also speaks to the interception of communication.
It notes that when necessary to carry out the agency’s functions to investigate a threat within or outside The Bahamas in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, the director may request for the attorney general to make an application under the Interception of Communications Act.
An agent or other employee authorized in writing by the director has the authority to question and request documents of board and aircraft operators.
A person who refuses to answer a question by the ‘authorized officer’; refuses to comply or gives a false or misleading answer under questioning would commit an offence, which would carry a fine not exceeding $5,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years upon conviction.
Complaints made against the agency shall be investigated to the Review Committee once it is satisfied the complaint is not “trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith”.
The investigation, which would begin as “soon as practicable after receiving the complaint” would be conducted in private, and afford the complainant and the director of the agency to make representations before the committee and present evidence.
The committee would have the power to enforce the appearance of a person before it, and could compel them to give oral and written evidence on oath.
Completed reports would be provided to the minister and the director with findings and recommendations that the committee considers appropriate.
The minister may, in the public interest, publicize the report in full or in part with redaction on the grounds of national security, according to the bill.