The state of the private security services industry in Bangladesh

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International Private Security Guard Day is observed around the world every year on July 24. This day is relevant for the progress of private security services in the country. Private security services were introduced in Bangladesh between 1988 and 1990 by a few companies like Securex, Atondro O Nischit, Shields, etc. on a limited basis. Group Captain Taher Quddus (Retd) was the founder of Securex and considered the pioneer of private security services in Bangladesh. Major Talebul Mowla (Retd), Maj Ahsanullah (Retd), Lt Col Quader (Retd), Maj Ashfaque Ahmed (Retd), Maj Mokaddes (Retd), Maj Zulfiqar Choudhury (Retd), Lt Col Abdul Latif Khan (Retd), Maj Syed Mizanur Rahman (Retd), Major Muhammad Akhtaruzzaman (Retd) and Ex-MP & Ex-DIG of Police Hashmatullah are some other prominent names in this regard. They have taken hectic initiatives to develop this new sector in the country.

The company took time to develop and gain momentum. However, in 1994-95 more companies started operating mainly in Dhaka. The security sector took a big leap in Bangladesh and around the world after the devastating attack on the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001. Threats, particularly from fundamentalists, militants and extremists, have given rise to the greatest concerns and fears.

It was during this time that Bangladesh saw the birth of a large number of private security companies to operate on a larger scale. The old concept of “Darwan” (traditional guard) changed overnight. Uniformed security guards were organized under the company banner by former high-ranking officers of the armed forces and police, as mentioned above. They took over the business to run it professionally as an industry.

But then came the incident of July 1, 2016, the fateful day when 18 foreigners were brutally murdered in Gulshan, the diplomatic area of ​​Dhaka. The incident is known as the infamous “Holey Artisan” attack. It dealt a mortal blow to our standing in the world. We immediately lost our image as a moderate nation.

The government was upset but rose to the challenge with great audacity. A complete overhaul of the country’s security apparatus has been undertaken. A full-fledged counter-terrorism unit has been created with all the paraphernalia and gadgets in place. Extensive and vigorous operations have been carried out to eliminate terrorism from the country. The efforts paid off and soon Bangladesh regained its place as a true fighter against terrorism in the world.

It may be noted here that in 2006, the government enacted the Private Security Services Act 2006 to regulate the activities of private security companies. The act came as a boon to the industry. The private security industry has become well known and has been recognized by law as an essential service in the country working hand in hand to complement the efforts of law enforcement agencies in the country.

To date, more than 800 security companies are working throughout the country. These companies have created job opportunities for more than seven hundred thousand people. Clients of these companies include embassies, high commissions, international organizations, NGOs, different industries including garment factories and pharmaceuticals, educational institutions, offices and residential buildings. You have to know what private security companies don’t do. Banks have to move billions through their cash vehicles every day. These vehicles and ATMs are guarded by private security companies 24 hours a day.

Over the years, private security companies have expanded and diversified their activities by providing investigative services, executive close protection services, due diligence, emergency evacuations, critical operations in remote areas, the event security, conflict resolution, logistics support, electronic security, maritime security, canine squad support (K9) and others. We also perform death claims investigations and certification of hospital medical admissions for a number of insurance companies.

Thus, adequate government support is needed for security companies to grow stronger. We barely have the resources to properly train our staff. Some seven hundred thousand (seven lakh) people employed in the sector are doing a great job to complement the efforts of law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, there is little good achievement or recognition of the sector’s contributions.

Despite a remarkable contribution, the security services are still little recognized socially. The main reason is lesser or no attraction to service as it is generally a low paid profession in Bangladesh. A village girl would not settle down or marry a security guard because the man is poor and has no “status” in society like other uniformed personnel. There are big corporations, conglomerates, big CSR players in the country who are reluctant to pay a guard even Tk 5,000-6,000 for eight hour monthly service. This means more than 60 US dollars for a guard for an entire month. With this modest remuneration, how can we expect the least good service from such a company? Pathetically, security business associations are also not active or good at negotiating like other trade bodies.

During Covid-19, these poor security personnel were seen as very dedicated like the other ‘front line fighters’ – but there was no ‘hello-clapping’ or prompting for them. They are even “unsung heroes”. Unlike doctors, law enforcement, and countless other professionals, security guards have remained neglected. Companies couldn’t even provide guards with personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, gloves, etc. adequate, because these are unaffordable. During periods of confinement without any public transport, the life of these guards has become extremely difficult.

Nevertheless, private security services have come to stay. It is a big business in the advanced world. The turnover of a company called “Black Water’s” amounted to billions. The figure was not even a million dollars a few years ago. The company had to hide for a while, but reappeared with a new name only to earn more. Hopefully things will get better in Bangladesh too in the future.

Brigadier General Sharif Aziz, psc (Retd) is Managing Director, Elite Force

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