President Irfaan Ali on Friday night said the increasingly controversial National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) Bill would be sent to parliamentary bipartisan select committee to allow persons to submit their observations.
“I am aware of the importance of this Bill, but equally, I am committed to ensuring the fulsome nature of the Bill is understood and that interested stakeholders be given the opportunity to contribute to it,” he said on his Facebook page. The President said he has instructed Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira and the Attorney General Anil Nandlall that the NISA Bill would be sent to select committee.
His announcement came hours after the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) expressed concern that NISA and its operatives could not be sued for accessing information that lawyers have obtain from their clients. “Legal Professional Privilege, the ability of our clients to freely share information with us for their fair representation, is the bedrock of our profession and by extension the administration of justice. We therefore as a collective, must in preparing for the future, find a way to somehow address this,” GBA President Pauline Chase said.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton and opposition APNU+AFC parliamentarian Jermaine Figueira have also poured cold water on the agency, saying that would entrench a dictatorship. “This bill allows for the NIA to gather intelligence through any means without any regulation or oversight. Such wide-ranging powers can and will likely lead to the violation of citizens’ privacy, including wiretapping citizens’ phones, which I’m told is already happening, intercepting emails and monitoring social media activities.
These actions can and will create an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and intimidation, which will most certainly erode trust between citizens and the government, undermining civil liberties,” Mr Figueira says in a letter to the editor.
But the Attorney General said the law would provide for a review tribunal to receive complaints and review NISA’s administration. Mr Nandlall said the Opposition Leader and Civil Society would be required to be part of that committee.
Sources said there are also lingering concerns that the NISA Bill would allow agents to access information from public bodies without regard to any other law. “The Agency may request a public body for information and the public body shall, notwithstanding the Access to Information Act 2011 or any other law, make available to the Agency any information requested within forty-eight hours or within a reasonable time stated in the request.” The law also provides for NISA agents to be deployed to Guyana’s foreign diplomatic missions.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Nandlall sought to convince Guyanese that they should have nothing to fear about the NISA law as that agency has been operating since 2010. He said there were national security and sovereignty issues to consider due to the fact that a lot of foreigners are in Guyana. “Intelligence gathering has to be institutionalised and we need agencies such as this to execute those tasks,” he said.