Formerly regarded as the most abusive security organ of the government, The National Intelligence and Security Service of Ethiopia (NISS) seems adamant now about rebranding and restructuring itself into an accountable and impartial professional intelligence institution, The Reporter has learnt.
NISS, tarnished by politically motivated arrests, unlawful killings, torture and other abuses of civil rights particularly of journalists and members of opposition parties has opened its doors on Monday, allowing rear access to journalists and a team of MPs, doing a parliamentary oversight, for the first time in about three decades.
The Reporter was the only private media invited among a few state and affiliated media organizations to attend the parliamentary oversight held at NISS’s headquarters located adjacent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Demelash Gebremichael, who is appointed last year as Director General of NISS appeared on Monday morning to welcome the MPs headed by Tesfaye Daba, chairman of the Foreign Relations and Peace Affairs Standing Committee of the Parliament.
After having a closed door session with members of the committee, the Director General Demelash and Tesfaye jointly gave a press conference for the journalists that have been waiting for them for several hours in the modern building that is hosting the main offices of the Ethiopian spy agency.
Demelash has unveiled the main reform activities he has been undertaking to rebrand and restructure the intelligence office.
In an effort to rebrand the institution, NISS will have a new name— the National Intelligence Center (NIC) — as well as a new logo, Dembelash said.
Going in to the merits of the restructuring, Dembelash talked about a draft law, currently under scrutiny in the Council of Ministers, which is expected to refer it to the House People’s Representatives where it will be ratified.
According to Demelash, the new law will clearly demarcate the powers and functions of the intelligence service, and ensure that the activities are subject to institutional oversight and appropriate safeguards.
The bill also incorporates an article that will prevent all officers of agency from having any affiliation with political parties so that the intelligence service operation is fully independent and has professional integrity.
To this end, the bill stipulates to disqualifying an officer who previously served as a member of the parliament, regional council, or held a position in a political party or business and trade association, at least five year from his nomination for the intelligence office.
The officers and the intelligence service, in general, will not have any engagement with activities supporting or promoting or influencing political objectives of any kind, advanced by any lawful political party, organization and group.
The bill also plans to suspend the intelligence service from conducting any security vetting or monitoring works over legal political parties or institutions connected to the freedom of expression.
Legal accountability will also be imposed on the intelligence office when it is discovered conducting activities that can obstruct individuals and groups fundamental human and democratic rights, according to the bill.
It also restricted the intelligence officers not to carry out any military and policing activities.
Tesafye Daba, chairman of the standing committee, said that members of his committee were delighted after witnessing the reforms undergoing at the intelligence office, NISS.