News2020.05.22 10:10

Bill for intelligence watchdog thwarted at Lithuanian parliament

BNS 2020.05.22 10:10

Lithuania's parliament has rejected a proposal to set up an intelligence ombudsperson, with the opposition's bill being criticised as "ruining a good idea".

The parliamentary opposition proposed establishing an omburdsperson to carry out independent oversight of the intelligence institutions. The office would also handle people's complaints about any possible abuses.

On Thursday, members of the Seimas rejected the bill, with 40 MPs voting in favour, nine against and 43 abstaining.

Read more: Lithuanian PM calls for more supervision of intelligence services

Members of the ruling parties – the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, the Social Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance – voted against the bill or abstained.

The chairman of the parliament's Committee on National Security and Defence, Dainius Gaižauskas, said setting up an intelligence ombudsperson was necessary, but asked other MPs not to support the bill.

“It's a very important institution. After an investigation by Seimas ombudsmen, the government is drafting a special bill. Why are you trying to ruin a good idea with your bill, which I would call an amateur mix of good intentions and which will do absolutely nothing good and will only discredit attempts to establish an ombudsperson's institution?” Gaižauskas said.

“Why are we doing this? Because you are not doing it,” responded Arvydas Anušauskas, an opposition member of the Committee on National Security and Defence who presented the bill.

Vytautas Bakas, a former chairman of the committee, proposed establishing the institution back in 2018, but the government has not presented any initiatives since then.

Anušauskas, who represents the conservative Homeland Union, said an intelligence ombudsperson was necessary to prevent intelligence institutions or individual officers from abusing their powers. Parliamentary control is not as effective as an ombudsperson would be, he argued.

“An ombudsman [...] would have access to information, meet with intelligence officers. The person in this position would have great powers to get information and could receive more information than politicians,” Anušauskas said.

Read more: Conservative MPs propose creating watchdog over Lithuania's intelligence services

A candidate for the position would be proposed by the Committee on National Security and Defence and appointed by the Seimas for a five-year term.

The Homeland Union registered the amendment early this year, soon after President Gitanas Nausėda sent a package of amendments expanding the powers of intelligence institutions.

Read more: State security eyes more powers under Lithuanian president's proposals

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