Dar es Salaam. The parliament on Wednesday unanimously passed the much-criticised Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service Bill, with the government dismissing criticisms directed at the proposed amendments as “ill-informed.”
The proposed amendments to one of Tanzania’s sensitive sectors were released to the public following an outcry that authorities are attempting to force them through without public discussion, something the critics called undemocratic and counterproductive.
The proposed amendments put intelligence operations under the president, doing away with the previous arrangement where they were under the respective minister. Other provision include formalizing the institution responsibility in protecting national leaders and also allow for cooperation with similar bodies at the international level.
Critics have taken issue with the bill’s proposal that it will be among the Service’s functions to protect all presidential candidates during the general election.
Some opposition politicians have complained that the arrangement will allow intelligence officers to listen to opposition candidates’ tactics to remove the ruling CCM from power.
The bill also has very stringent provisions that stakeholders consider detrimental to press freedom and access to information in Tanzania.
It wants someone who reveals that a person – unless it is the Director General – is a member of the intelligence service or is connected in any way with a member of the Service to face a punishment of a fine not less than Sh20 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than fifteen years or both.
But the biggest criticism of the bill has been its suggestion that members of the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS) be given immunity for things they will do while on duty, a suggestion some have described as a blow to Tanzania’s “young and vulnerable” democracy.
The amendment bill wants section 19(1) of the Act to read: “No action or other proceedings shall lie or be instituted against the Director General or officer of the Service for or in respect of any act or thing done or omitted to be done in good faith in [the] exercise or purported exercise of his function under this Act.”
The section in the current law reads: “The Director-General and all officers and employees of the Service shall each, performing his duties and functions under this Act, not be liable to any action for damages for any act done or omitted to be done by him bone fide in connection with, the duties and functions of the Service.”
This issue resurfaced in the parliament on Wednesday while debating the bill, with Special Seat MP Salome Makamba, the only lawmaker who criticised the bill, wondering how the government will ensure that members of the Service behave given the immunity extended to them by the law.
She was concerned that Service members would abuse the government’s good intention of giving them immunity for anything they did while on duty.
But George Simbachawene, the cabinet minister responsible for national security issues, clarified the proposed amendments, particularly on the immunity issue, telling the parliament that much of the criticism is ill-informed.
“The law gives Service members immunity only when on duty and not on any other occasion,” Mr Simbachawene told lawmakers. “The immunity will not apply when a Service member engages in criminal conduct. When such conduct happens, the law will follow its current.”
Simbachawene, who doubles as Kibakwe MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), defended the immunity extended to Service members, saying it is an essential protection mechanism, particularly in the war against terrorism.
He gave an example of a scenario where a Service member is engaged in a shoot-out with terrorists, and accidentally a bullet catches a civilian, noting that in a situation like that, it is not okay to hold the security person to account.
From the parliament, the bill will now head to President Samia Suluhu Haasan, whose signature will turn the bill into an enforceable law in the country.