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February 16, 2019

NKAARI MARTIN: New era for private security firms


Kenya’s private security industry is a vast and powerful force. In its foundation it is police power, with origins older than public policing. It is a central player in the protection of the citizenry, business and property. The scope and extent of private security going into the future looks endless.

The industry has about a thousand operating entities offering diverse services. It directly employs more than 500,000 people, with an estimated annual turnover of more than Sh300 billion. It is ubiquitous and provides, in many cases, the first line of policing for industry, business and individuals.

Yet, for such a permeating and powerful force, private security in Kenya has hardly had any centrally organised regulation, up until now. Public policing, as embodied largely under the National Police Service, comes under the direct regulation of constitutional principles, laws and regulations, executive edict, several commissions and a well-defined command structure.

Private security on the other hand is fragmented and has largely been self-regulating, with every entity having its own guidelines and accountable mainly to shareholders and a level of public interest.

The assent of the Private Security Regulation Act on May 18, 2016 and its commencement on June 3, 2016, brought the entire industry under central and public regulation. The Private Security Regulatory Authority was created with the board being appointed in 2017 and a CEO coming in recently. The authority is expected to implement the law.

The Act defines the scope of both the industry and private security providers, lays down the basis of both registration and licensing, the framework for cooperation with national security organs. It defines and brings all security equipment under its regulation and provides a framework for inquiry into the conduct of private security providers, as well as a code of conduct.

Recently, a leading security company invited tenders, through the dailies, for security equipment, including firearms, despite the fact that this is still prohibited under law. This was a clear sign that the industry is hardly aware of the new legal regime it is now under. Continuing to operate like it is business as usual presents a challenge for the industry, the new regulator and the government

For the industry to achieve compliance, a lot of work will need to be done. The regulatory authority will need the cooperation of the industry, government and the public to deliver its mandate.

The business nature of the industry should provide a motive for expedition of the process as businesses would like this done in the shortest and most affordable way possible. Regulation should be a facilitator rather than a burden for business.

The public interest in the industry beyond its mandate is foremost going to be its human resource practices. Guards have become pervasive, especially in urban environments, working extensive hours for little pay. This is an issue the industry and regulator will have to address.

The National Police Service has also involuntarily been pushed into private security. Services such as cash in transit and security of buildings and other private/public places have been handed to the police yet these are essentially not public policing roles.

Having up to 10 police officers stationed in a mall, as deterrent to crime as that maybe, isn’t the best use of both the police and the public purse. Increasingly, these roles should be moved to the private industry to release tied up policemen to general public good.

The sad episode of the company that advertised for firearms without legal backing goes to show some of the challenges the industry is facing with very few being aware or prepared for the new environment. In this lies a challenge and opportunity to instal a regulatory environment that secures the gains, future and public safety and security in general.

Both industry and regulator should make this as efficient, effective and painless as possible. Regulation will certainly offer the opportunity for new processes, create new roles, build new relationships, and see deployment of new tools and technologies, which can be leveraged for more industry efficiency and new business opportunities.

Nkaari is policy, regulation and compliance director, The Security Academy

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