Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya has referred the gazetted National Intelligence Service Bill, with critics condemn its sweeping powers they warn could be used to crack down on political opponents and stifle civil liberties, to the joint Legal Affairs and Defence and Internal Security committees for further scrutiny.
Minister of Justice and Constitution Affairs Samuel Tembenu read the proposed piece of legislation on Monday in Parliament for the first time.
National Intelligence Service Bill - christened as 'Spy Bill - is among the six Bills government prepared for the current House meeting.
The 'spy' Bill--gazetted on May 26 2017--gives the State spy agency powers to obtain warrants for purposes that critics say could also be used for arrests and detention purposes.
It gives what is set to be called the National Intelligence Service (NIS)--currently called the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB)--law enforcement authority that might easily turn into abuse of covert power, according to critics.
The Bill seeks to outline duties, functions and powers of NIS, in addition to regulating its administration.
According to the proposed Bill, the NIS director general will have powers to apply from the magistrate court a warrant to enable the institution "perform any of its functions".
The key functions and duties of NIS will, among others, include gathering, evaluating, correlating, interpreting, investigating, disseminating and storing information for detecting and identifying of threats to the security of the nation.
The warrant will give NIS powers to enter any place or obtain access to anything and search for or remove, examine or record in any manner the information, material, record or document, which human rights advocates say will be an infringement on individual lives' privacy.
The law will also make NIS an independent State institution and shall report directly to the President who may delegate some or all of his powers under the Act to a Cabinet minister.
Further, it will give the President powers to appoint the director general and his or her deputy on terms and conditions as he or she may determine.
However, while the delegated minister shall annually submit a report on the activities of the service to the defence and security committee of Parliament, the same law empowers the minister or the NIS director general not to "produce before Parliament any document or other evidence" as certified by the director general.
NIB was established by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government in 2000 under the Office of the President and Cabinet to replace the Special Branch, which was an arm of the Malawi Police Service notorious during MCP's rule for targeting the party's political enemies.
At the height of the tug-of-war between former President Bingu wa Mutharika and his predecessor Bakili Muluzi in January 2005, NIB was dissolved and some of its senior officers, including its head, Chitsulo Gama, were dismissed.
The official government explanation was that the bureau was operating illegally and needed restructuring as some of its officers were poorly qualified for the task.
While some of its officers were employed from the police, others were former UDF operatives as it is today with DPP Youth Cadets.
The bureau was re-constituted as the Secret Intelligence Service in mid-2006, earning the criticism of the Malawi Law Society (MLS) which at the time wrote: "While appreciating the requirement of the security of the State, we wish to point out that the operationalization of the Service in the absence of legislation is unlawful."