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The development and furtherance of our democracy will mean greater levels of accountability, transparency and responsibility in governance. So far, successive administrations have only paid lip service to this idea, promising more access to key information while doing their endeavor best to keep the electorate in the dark.
While Bahamians have been left to wonder about key national issues, this government and government’s abroad have been prying into the daily lives of our citizens. While it has faded from public consciousness, the allegation is NSA phone tapping in the Bahamas was, and is, a clear breach of privacy at the highest levels. Following that revelation last year, government officials promised to get answers on behalf of the country. And more importantly, whether this administration or the previous one gave permission to US Officials to invade the private lives of Bahamians. Unfortunately, this administration has done nothing to advance the future protections of our personal information nor have they gotten a satisfactory answer from US officials regarding that intrusion.
Even as this atrocity goes unanswered, this Christie administration has seemingly undertaken its own invasion of privacy on, and at the expense of the Bahamian people. In 2014 reports of the National Intelligence Agency grabbed (NIA) headlines across the country leading the local media on the hunt for the agency’s location in New Providence; a location which is believed to house an arm of law enforcement dedicated to keeping track of average every day citizens and residents; reading our private e-mails, scouring through our private text messages and listening to every phone call, all in search of potential threats to the country’s national security.
In its 2012 Charter for Governance the Christie administration committed itself to the formation of the NIA to “address all categories of major breaches/crime in our jurisdiction.” In pitching the idea of this CIA-like security agency, government officials proposed that the new body would be comprised of members from every branch of law enforcement in the country. Its mission: to protect our borders, aid in the reduction of crime, and help “maintain safety and peace”.
More than 2 ½ years after coming to office however, the government has offered no definitive statements on the NIA, which by all reports has been operating illegally, and on money from the public purse.
As has been their MO, the government in this matter put the cart before the horse, establishing and funding the agency before even bringing the legislation that would govern it. Now several months after the organization allegedly began functioning, the funds allocated in the government’s budget for the NIA have yet to be accounted for and the public remains in the dark. The PM’s recent budget communication again failed to address the matter.
The absence of facts, leave room for countless questions. For example, does each individual or registered voter have a personal file in the NIA? Just how much data has been collected on these individuals? Are some persons more closely monitored than others? What criteria does the NIA use to categorize criminals? By NIA standards what is the definition of criminal behavior? And how much is this organization costing taxpayers in terms of salaries, equipment and utilities?
The time has come for this government to come clean. In the face of growing public mistrust of the government and its systems, this administration must stop allowing for inferences and speculation to take the place of the truth. The government still has a chance to correct the misinformation that exists by simply putting out the facts.