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Opinion

June 29, 2015

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Security and citizens

Security and citizens
There was a time when people in the rural areas of the Subcontinent would voluntarily guard their village on a rotational basis. Their only weapons were batons, whistles and drums which these volunteers would use to keep the rest of the villagers alert. It was an economical method to protect the rural settlements through community participation.
The world has changed since then. Now at least 40 percent of the population in Pakistan lives in urban areas where these methods of providing security service do not work as people have less time for such risky security work – and some can afford private guards.
Provision of security to people is the fundamental responsibility of any state. How can any democratic government get public approval without investing on specific activities? How can any service be provided to its users without allocating financial resources for the desired outcomes? The case in point is allocating adequate resources for provision of security to the people of Pakistan.
The estimated population of Sindh is 60 million. Annual spending on law and order, including internal security allowance for the Rangers, is approximately Rs64 billion in current budget proposals. Punjab spends Rs88 billion for more than 90 million people annually making it less than Rs100 per person for the year 2015-16. KP and Balochistan have claimed they will spend more than Rs100 per person this year. By all means, this is not sufficient to prevent crime or to counter terrorism because this budget is spent on administrative costs and little is available for developing the desired capabilities to thwart threats to public safety.
It is learnt that 90 percent of the police budget is allocated to keep the existing administrative structure intact like paying salaries. Ten percent is spent to complete ongoing improvements in the brick and mortar structures. There is no budget for research and development which clearly demonstrates that the foundation of any policy can be anything but empirical evidence, data or international best practice. Even where international models are followed, there is no procedure to ensure local application and prospects duly assessed and verified by rigorous methods or through consultations with experts, academia or citizens for whom all this paraphernalia is developed.
If we further analysed this, per capita spending may not be a fair yardstick to gauge and justify security provided to ordinary people. Empirically speaking, police funds are not uniformly spent because some specialised functions like VVIP security for one public personality consume far more funds as compared to a public official or a citizen. Similarly the level of security provided during a cricket match is a onetime expense and consumes additional funds for people who attend the event while the remaining people in the same city are at risk during the same event because of this shifting of resources from one location to the other.
An oft-quoted yardstick is to consider the police-population ratio. Statistics show that there are far fewer officers present in the streets for performing day to day duties in our cities as compared to other metropolitan cities of the world. In London, one policeman is responsible for 152 people; in New Delhi, 291 citizens are protected by one policeman and in New York a police officer serves 237 people. In Lahore, one policeman is recruited for every 337 people. In Karachi, the officer to population ratio is higher than 850. It is disheartening to know that in Islamabad, officers working in the operations wing are in a bad state and one police officer tries to serve at least 625 persons.
Due to this meagre expenditure and high demand for security service, the private sector has jumped in. According to estimates, the number of private security companies is more than 500. There has been a steady boom in this sector since 2000.
There are some positive aspects of this private security business other than employment generation. It has introduced some modern gadgets for personal and premises security. Although this sector is the monopoly of retired officers belonging to the armed forces, it has generated competition in security services within the public and private sectors. Critics object that with each passing day the quality of security service provided by these companies is deteriorating due to the fact that these security companies are focussing on making maximum profits from their clients. Interestingly, this thinking is common in public and private sector.
There is another similarity between the public sector and most of the private sector companies: both dislike accountability and abhor efficient monitoring systems. In the public sector it is resisted due to the organisational culture of public services where nobody wants to be held accountable against any benchmark. In the private sector poor monitoring is causing delinquent behaviour in guards who are found involved in theft, robberies and heinous offences like murder and rape. At higher levels it is resulting in avoiding transparent documentation of business and saving funds by not imparting training to private guards.
The question of allocation of resources is not merely limited to increasing the feet on the ground and providing more eyes and ears. Allocation of extra resources by provincial and federal governments is also required along with distribution of these resources to the taxpayers and reducing unnecessary layers of security for VVIPs. Yes, technology is a way to enhance security, collect evidence, analyse situations and deploy proactive and reactive response mechanisms. Filling existing vacancies in police and other law-enforcement institutions by young skilled workers will be instrumental in raising the level of human resource. A certain level of expertise in computer literacy can be the basic requirement for police officers before entry in service or being promoted to a higher level. Similarly, private security companies will also need to know their subject thoroughly rather than having a vague idea about it. A regulatory framework will be required under a dedicated setup in provincial police departments and in the federal government.
There is some evidence that the above mentioned steps have been taken in the past and civilian security budgets have been increased manifold since 9/11. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan police have received major donor driven funds and domestic funding. In both the provinces the number of personnel has almost doubled in the last ten years but that is still unable to keep pace with growing urbanisation, population bulge and expectations of a generally more informed public. Is it not time to introduce a Citizens’ Satisfaction Index (CSI) for a variety of services provided by public departments which should serve as a barometer of performance of each police organisation in a district? This can be piloted in some urban areas of the provinces or Islamabad where feedback and data collection will be comparatively easy.
The Citizen Satisfaction Index can be designed by local experts for each police unit. It can also be used to evaluate other civic services provided by the district administration. This could be a way to give a voice to citizens as well as measure the performance of public servants. Of course, we have the talent to torpedo all ideas and innovations but for improving services and ensuring accountability we have to take steps which have not been tested before.
There is need to take innovative steps and this may require a new structure for civilian security sector governance. It could be a Ministry of Public Safety run by experts rather than the existing bureaucratic set up at the federal and provincial levels. This will require revamping the police departments empowered to make policies in the provinces through able leadership accountable not only to public representatives but also to the citizens directly.
Citizens are the end users and they must have a say in the performance of public services. Will someone act to develop an institution to address the security needs of citizens of Pakistan or will they be protected by a baton and a whistle by a night watchman who will provide security by keeping them awake the whole night by calling out Jagtay Raho?

The writer holds a degree in public administration from Harvard University. Email: ank@post.harvard.edu
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