By Juma Kwayera
Parliament plans to give the State’s spy agency the power to detain or jail anyone found in possession of classified documents. Intelligence officers will be allowed to bear arms and work outside the limits of the Constitution.
They will also have sweeping powers to search or confiscate private property.
With apparent disregard for public interest, legislators have crafted a repressive law that could be used against journalists, whistle-blowers and perceived political dissidents.
Once the National Intelligence Service Bill 2012 is passed, you will be required to destroy any sensitive information you come across or Bill has sparked alarm in some quarters and been termed unconstitutional.
“They are trying to create a loophole for covering corruption in high places,” charged presidential hopeful Paul Muite. Many Members of Parliament, however, see no problem with the law and say the war on terror justifies it.
“It will (improve) the gathering of information, more so given terrorism threats across the globe and cyber crime,” says Dujis MP Aden Duale. Meeting in Mombasa last week, MPs cleared the Bill for debate in the House despite objections that sections of it claw back gains made since the Kanu era. It is feared the proposed law will be used to prevent or punish the use of court processes or investigative journalism to hold Government to account. It could also stop the exposure of economic crimes, abuse of office, Executive mistakes, and other misdeeds on the grounds of ‘national security’.
Human rights lawyer Harun Ndubi warns the Bill gives the spy agency a free hand to use repressive means to deprive the public of the right to information.
“You cannot criminalise (the acquisition of) information that lawyers need for their clients’ cases or investigative journalists require as matter of public interest,” he says.
This is not the first attempt to limit public oversight of the Government on the grounds of “national security”. In 2010, the National Security Intelligence Service ( NSIS) was accused of making a secret change to a draft of the proposed constitution at the Government Printer. Two words, “national security”, were illegally added to clause 24(1)(d) on the limitation of the Bill of Rights. This would have allowed fundamental rights to be suspended at any time on grounds of national security.
The intervention of a whistleblower forced then Attorney General Amos Wako to withdraw the doctored document. No criminal charges were brought in relation to the incident, with only administrative measures against staffers at the Government Printer.
The draft law could usher in a new era of Government secrecy at a time when Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries and other officials are avoiding any paper trail for some of their activities.