The economic downturn over the past decade has dramatically increased unemployment in Pakistan, superceded only by the financial problems created by our abysmal revenue-gathering attempts. Where we needed increased job slots, industrial and commercial entities have been shedding both white and blue-collar jobs at an alarming rate. New businesses, even in the IT sector, have not been able to balance the shortages. The only bright spot in this overall economic gloom is the sustained development of the Services sector, perhaps the only one in the economy creating more jobs. The driving force for more jobs in this sector has been private security. Moreover, in contrast to the US$ 50000 in foreign exchange required to create one job in the manufacturing sector, it takes less than US$ 200 in equivalent Pakistan Rupees for a new employment slot in private security. Given also that at least 20000-30000 Servicemen, retire at an early age every year, particularly at the lower end of the scale, it is an economic necessity for them to supplement their meager retirement pays to support their families. Only a very small percentage are skilled enough for white and blue-collar jobs, private security provides a distinct class of khaki-collar jobs. Moreover, unemployment creates law and order problems, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, the perennially unemployed have no option but to resort to crime to feed their families. Private security companies in a very direct way prevent anarchy by offering dignified re-employment to those with the training and expertise to create anarchy.
For more than two years, All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA) and Security Services Welfare Forum (SSWF) have engaged in meaningful discussions with the government at various levels to enact laws regulating the running of private security companies. Last October SSWF merged into APSAA, this combined Association is the only one recognized by the government and represents more than 110 companies of the 130 having NOCs. The initiative to narrow down differences, taken by Lt Gen (Retd) Moinuddin Haider, when he was Governor Sindh, continues in his present incumbency as Federal Interior Minister. The bureaucracy (aided by those with vested interest) tried their best to insert clauses emasculating the working of private security companies. To deter “undesirable elements” from getting into private security the bureaucracy recommended extremely high registration fees, renewal fees, branch office fees, etc. Retired officers (almost 90% of the “entrepreneurs” in private security) can only use their limited pensions, the argument that drug smugglers, money launderers, etc could afford such high fees was self-evident. The point being well taken, the fees were suitably reduced. Checks and balances were put into the process to negate bureaucratic excesses, fully reflected in the Minutes of the final meeting chaired by the Federal Interior Minister and attended by the Interior Secretary, the Home Secretaries of all the Provinces (and Islamabad Capital Territory), representatives of APSAA and SSWF (as well as a Joint Venture (JV) private security company which was not a member of either of the Associations). The Minutes were circulated and were unambiguous, or so we thought. With the promulgation of the Sindh Ordinance, we discovered that our self-congratulations were greatly exaggerated!
Regulations are meant to ensure good service by good companies having adequate expertise, management and personnel. There have been cases of guards robbing those they are supposed to be guarding and then disappearing like they never existed, indifferent verification procedures having allowed the odd criminal to infiltrate the guard force. While this is certainly not acceptable, even then in the past 15 years there have been less than half a dozen such individual cases involving members of APSAA. About a dozen or so cases have taken place among companies not having NOC, why they have been allowed to function is for the administration to answer. Putting both the categories together more cases have taken place involving personnel of one company alone, a JV company (alongwith an associate Pakistani company) both of whom are not members of APSAA (all the other foreign JVs and franchises are). Being rather frivolous with the truth, their Managing Director had the audacity to attack other private companies on TV as not being upto the required security services standard! One would like to know from the gentleman whose guard shot the manager of multi-national ICI in Hyderabad? Whose armoured cash trucks have been taken away by the driver alongwith cash? Whose guards were caught taking away a safe from a major bank? Indeed whose guards were caught trying to cut open a bank’s safe with welding torches? Whose guards went on more than strike for over 3 months? And who did an out-of-court settlement after many years recently? Which company used soft-skin Suzuki vans for over a decade to carry cash and got more than 30 of their guards killed in these soft-skin death traps? Would his JV foreign partner allow this knowing it to be illegal? How has he obtained permission to operate over 200 LEFT-hand drive armoured vehicles when such vehicles are absolutely forbidden to ply on the road? And are all the vehicles actually armoured? And the list goes on! The monopoly over private security in the 80s has gone to this “landlord’s” head. He still imagines that private security in Pakistan is his private domain and the other companies are “trespassers”. Well, I have news for him, the member companies of APSAA do not think so and we are all together in this, from the smallest to the largest.
The promulgation of the Sindh Private Security Agencies (Regulation and Control) Ordinance 2000 on Jan 3, 2001 confirmed the worst fears of APSAA. Instead of being treated as any other business in the private sector, the Ordinance emasculates the basic right of all private citizens to do business by giving arbitrary powers to the Licencing Authority. Moreover it forbids anyone from seeking relief from any court of law. This is a flagrant denial of basic human rights guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution. Even government servants have a right to go to court for their grievances, under this Ordinance private security companies cannot. And as an example of the draconian measures read para 12 (2) “Where the person committing an offence under this Ordinance is a company, or other body corporate, or an association of persons, every director, manager, secretary and other officer thereof shall, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or consent, be deemed to be guilty of such offence” unquote. If a guard commits a crime, every director and executive in the company is liable for prosecution. Is the IG Police, the DIG Police, the SSP, SP or even the SHO hauled up because a police constable commits a murder? Should the Corps Commander, GOC, Brigade Commander and Commanding Officer be prosecuted if a soldier absents himself without leave? What are the statistics? In 15 years of existence a 100 plus companies throughout Pakistan having NOC (and more than 200000 guards) have had a half-dozen cases i.e. 0.40 case per year, i.e. less than one case a year. How many criminal cases are the police involved in every month in each Thana, what to talk about the District and the Province? Should we ask the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Army how many servicemen are involved in criminal cases every year? Without shirking responsibility if there is culpability, the sweeping punishment is sheer nonsense. This potential Sword of Daimocles is a time-tested bureaucratic method to extract money. Instead of minimizing bureaucratic interference, we are maximizing the official straitjacket. And why should the private security companies give their audited accounts to the Licencing Authority? Which business in any country of the world does that except to the Income Tax Authorities?
Our present rulers are blissfully ignorant that the bureaucrats are hell-bent on killing the only goose that is presently laying golden eggs in Pakistan. Moreover, since they cannot confront those in uniform, take revenge on those khaki-collar workers who have shed the uniform! For the past month we have been requesting without success Governor Sindh, Mohammadmian Soomro, the Frequent Flyer (all the Governors Sindh usually are), for a meeting to apprise him of our difficulties so that we do not have to resort to legal means to defend our interests while we still have the right to do so. One commiserates with Soomro, he is hardly his own master and those who cocoon him have no time for those making a direct contribution to the economy, not the first time bureaucracy has made a rubber stamp out of a Governor. The Home Secretary, to whom we have been referred, cannot second-guess the Governor, only the Governor (or rather the Governor’s handlers) can change the status quo. Either this is a runaround or a Catch-22, you take your pick. On Oct 12, 1999 the Army was determined to cut through all bureaucratic muddle. Good intention notwithstanding, all end up becoming part of the system, the pomp and ceremony eventually gets to you, Killing the golden goose may be a recurring pastime of our bureaucracy but not if the khaki-collars of APSAA can help it!
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.