SASA responds to the Minister

January 2013 Associations

In Parliament recently, the Minister of Police, the Honourable Nathi Mthethwa, touched on a range of issues around the private security industry of South Africa. SASA has listened and has taken heed of the Minister’s pronouncements, some of which were helpful and enlightening while others merit a word or two from the Association.

Minister Nathi Mthethwa: The amendment bill is aimed at eradicating criminality in the private security industry.

Jenny Reid: The problem is not the general private security industry. One of the bigger problems is the non-compliance in the security industry which PSIRA does not appear to be able to control. Putting more regulations in place and not policing them is pointless.

The Minister: The Bill seeks to address identified security threats, risk and problems regarding the regulation of the private security industry.

Reid: I believe that this is necessary but it needs to be done in conjunction with the private security industry. It is easy to meet with the larger compliant organisations which have regulated addresses and comfortable offices serving tea and coffee. What is being done about the small organisations that do not employ legally and do not operate legally?

The Minister: The South African private security industry is increasingly performing functions which used to be the sole preserve of the police. This has, and will continue to have a serious influence on the functioning of the criminal justice system as a whole. While it is true that private security does and can fill certain vacuums, private security can never replace the public police.

Reid: I agree 100% with this and it is all the more reason why we should be working more closely together as opposed to pulling apart. The police often do not have the skills or resources that are available to the private security industry. Would it not make sense for both parties to serve the people? We would certainly welcome such a partnership.

The Minister: The police aim to protect the public while private security has a profit motive and has as its main objective the protection of its client’s interests. The interests of private clients and those of the state and public are not always the same.

Reid: Private companies are in business to make a profit and the security sector is no exception. And what they add to the economy while doing so cannot be ignored. Our security companies operate in what is probably the world’s most competitive industry. We employ over a million people. We contribute billions of rands to the tax base while doing our part to deliver as safe an environment as possible. If the industry did not function as efficiently as it does, the country would be in turmoil.

The Minister: Part of this amendment is aimed at eradicating the criminality within this industry. Clearly, the ability of criminal networks to infiltrate the industry and the vulnerability of the industry to such infiltration poses a major threat to the government’s capacity to address crime.

Reid: Why would criminal networks only want to infiltrate the security industry? We need to deal with crime as a whole – South Africa rates very highly on the scale of crime. I do not believe any research shows that the security industry has a high level of syndicate infiltration. Do the police have the resources to deal with the syndicate crime infesting such high profile areas as banking, cash in transport facilities, the information technology, industry and the retail sector?

The Minister: An indication of the extent of criminal infiltration of the industry can be seen in the results of a voluntary vetting process initiated by some private security business in 2008 where 170 728 guards were vetted through the SAPS Criminal Records Centre, 14 729 were flagged as being linked to possible criminal activities. All these guards allegedly had valid registration certificates as required under the Private Security Industry Regulatory Act, 2001.

Reid: This is a massive problem because PSIRA only request that a security officer is screened on registration in the industry. The bigger more compliant companies do regular screening. I do not believe the fly-by-nights or non-compliant companies do any form of screening. Again it needs to be an effort between the industry and PSIRA.

The Minister: The ICoC essentially promotes international self-regulation of the industry and while the move may be welcomed, some commentators have expressed concern that this initiative cannot replace, and should not circumvent, moves to implement effective international instruments through the United Nations

Reid: SASA is currently trying to drive compliance but we are not the regulatory body and the current regulatory body often does not follow up on reports of non-compliance. We have had a process in place to strengthen this area which must be driven by PSIRA, and we have repeatedly emphasised that we are ready and willing to participate and assist.

The Bill also seeks to limit foreign ownership in private security companies to 49% and gives the minister the power to determine the percentage of foreign ownership and control.

Let me quote the DA member of parliament, Diane Kohler-Barnard, on this point: “This is nothing short of expropriation – and should 51% of the shares in the company be sold to a South African, there is no guarantee that the shares will not then be sold on to a foreigner. It also claims that permanent residents (foreigners granted the right to live and work here) may not be involved in this industry. This is clearly illegal.”

Finally, we have always stated that the private security industry exists in South Africa because there is an important and urgent need for it. We fulfil a role that the police cannot – simply because of the numbers needed to address the tide of crime, because state budgets do not and cannot fund the real security requirement and because the security requirement will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

It makes no sense to eviscerate the private security industry. It is a fact that private security personnel registered in accordance with PSIRA rules outnumber SAPS employees by four to one. This statistic is not lost on SAPS, evidenced by the fact that the minister has a bill before parliament that seeks to change existing laws that govern the industry.

To the government we would say: “We can help, we really can. Do not keep us at arm’s length. Let us work as a team. South Africa will be the winner.”

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