Marvin Dames, Minister of National Security. Photo: Terrel W. Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By Khrisna Russell
Deputy Chief Reporter
HEADS of respective law enforcement agencies raised concerns that the former government never communicated to them how the National Intelligence Agency was to function in the collective fight against crime.
Calling it a “mysterious” agency, National Security Minister Marvin Dames said the Christie administration’s NIA – now disbanded - worked in isolation and did not have respect for or from local authorities.
According to Mr Dames yesterday, it was a waste of Bahamian taxpayers’ money for the “personal gains” of the Progressive Liberal Party.
He made the assertions during debate of the National Crime Intelligence Agency Bill 2019, which was passed in the lower chamber yesterday. The bill now heads to the Senate for debate and passage.
However, Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin told the House of Assembly the Official Opposition would not support the bill in its current form because there had been no consultation with the public on its provisions. She said the fact that the bill lacked transparency and afforded too many freedoms to the minister compounded this.
The Official Opposition has also contended that ultimately the prime minister would be the overarching authority of the NCIA. The opposition made several attempts yesterday to move motions to have several clauses of the bill removed, however, the motions were defeated.
Nonetheless Mr Dames defended the government’s bill. He said it would not infringe on the rights of citizens, be standardised according to international standards and insisted there would be a clear demarcation when it comes to who can give directives.
This new development in national security is a necessary change that has been long contemplated and is arguably overdue, he said.
“The proposed NCIA Bill seeks to establish a government agency with responsibility for gathering intelligence that may very well enhance the security of The Bahamas,” Mr Dames said. “This bill is distinct from other national intelligence structures such as those in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, and Australia mainly due to their governmental constructs. However, there are common components, which will help to facilitate global standardisation and help to create an effective or optimal national intelligence system for The Bahamas.
“The Bahamas must enact legislation, guided by other model legislation for the region and global community where there is almost uniformity between all countries as it relates to their efforts in the fight for national humanity as demonstrated in the security of their citizens.”
He also said the NCIA would have three objectives including: coordinating intelligence gathering and joint strategic planning among the heads of national law enforcement agencies; to collect by investigation or otherwise, information on activities that may on reasonable grounds, be suspected of constituting threats to the people and security of The Bahamas and coordinate effective networking between regional and international partners.
“The purpose of this bill is not to intrude in the lives of law abiding citizens. Such interferences in the lives of law abiding citizens would not be justifiable and it is not the intended purpose of this agency. The unfounded ideas as they are, must be addressed so that the Bahamian people have a full and clear understanding on the purpose and need for this agency. I must reiterate the need to enhance national security.
“The answers to such concerns are accountability and transparency on the part of NCIA. The former will seek to facilitate decisions on making information publicly available in various formats that will serve to improve the public’s understanding of intelligence activities, while protecting information when disclosures would harm the national security of the country. The latter will seek to facilitate building capacity and responsibility that is both internally held and externally reinforced. Transparency and accountability must lie at the centre between liberty and security for without it both civil rights and liberties would be in jeopardy for destruction and dire consequences.”
The minister said the government over the last five years has spent between $286 million dollars and $453.3 million dollars for the respective five branches of law enforcement agencies.
He said therefore this proposed law serves to add to the annals of historic legislation designed to propel our nation forward and upward in its development.
“With all of the new legislation, new powers and new responsibilities of the five branches of law enforcement, there has been no substantial coordinated efforts or effective oversight. This new proposed legislation seeks to accomplish this significant milestone,” he said.
During the Christie administration, there was no legislation to support the newly formed NIA, prompting criticism from some quarters. The agency was disbanded shortly after the Free National Movement took office in May 2017.