Over one year ago last February, I publicly raised the matter of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) via a previous weekly national newspaper column. I raised this matter because I knew the Agency had been established without the necessary legislation, and that $72,000 of public funds was allocated in the new government’s first fiscal Budget (2012/2013) as the annual salary for a Director of a surveillance Agency the country knew little to nothing about. In their next Budget (2013/2014), the “Director NIA” line item was notably removed from the section of the National Security Ministry’s Budget that covers salaries, and a new recurrent budget line item called “National Intelligence Agency” was created under the “Grants, Fixed Charges & Special Financial Transactions” block of National Security’s Budget – with an unexplained increase in allocation to $100,000. The NIA currently falls directly under the Ministry of National Security and not the Royal Bahamas Police Force, which suggests that the Agency’s Director answers to a politician and not the Commissioner of Police like the Force’s security, surveillance and intelligence branch (SIB) does – a major red flag regarding this secret surveillance Agency. The Police Force already carries out surveillance and intelligence gathering via SIB. What kind of monitoring of Bahamians could a government Minister(s) possibly want or need that SIB is not already legally mandated to do?
Parliament has voted twice (via two fiscal Budgets) to approve allocations for the NIA. Last week the matter was brought up by an Opposition MP for the first time. Now that Minister BJ Nottage has told the press that this Agency is carrying out its secret activities on Bahamians without lawful authority (as no law is in place to give effect to the Agency), we wait to see how the media and Opposition will tackle this very serious matter, as it has now been well over a year since taxpayer dollars have been funding an unlawful Agency that has been carrying out secret surveillance and intelligence gathering on undisclosed Bahamians. When Minister Nottage said NIA is only monitoring “criminals”, what the public wasn’t told is that only legislation can define who is a “criminal” with respect to whatever NIA is mandated to do via that legislation. Without such definition as set out in law, “criminal” is then left to be subjective, meaning a Minister can arbitrarily decide to declare anyone a criminal and have him or her monitored via NIA.
Laws are made by the Parliament, not by the mere words that come out of a politician’s mouth. And activities do not suddenly and automatically become legal just because it is the government that is carrying out those activities. Since this Agency does not exist in law, any surveillance or intelligence gathering done on Bahamians in the name of the NIA is being done without lawful authority, and should therefore cease immediately until legislation is passed to make this “national” Agency a lawful entity whose mandate, chain of command, parameters and regulations are made known to the nation.
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