Implications of Privatizing Public Security

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, pleaded for leaving all economic activities to be regulated by market forces without any restraint from state or any other organized group. He believed, “the invisible hand” would coordinate them and run them without any violent ups and downs. He, however, reserved a few activities exclusively for state’s domain. One of them was internal security and maintenance of law and order and for this it was to have adequate police force, and to maintain it, it was allowed to raise sufficient tax revenue.

Internal security was to be provided to all citizens, irrespective colour, creed, and, above all, economic status. In other words, both the rich and the poor were entitled to equal treatment in the matter of provision of security without any discrimination. It became as sacred to democracy as the principle of one person, one vote.

In recent years, especially after the advent of Washington consensus-based globalisation, state after state has been shedding this responsibility and the business of providing security to its citizens is being privatized. Private security agencies have started springing up like mushroom to take care of the needs of individuals, institutions, factories, business establishments and homes and houses of the well-to-do. One may go round large as well as medium-sized cities and towns India to realize this. Not only the privately run but also the government-funded and managed institutions have been entrusting the responsibility of guarding them to private security agencies. Many politicians and business leaders have employed private security outfits to guard them as well as their near and dear ones, especially when there is a threat of assassination and kidnapping for ransom. In some cases, private security guards with guns in their hands have become a status symbol besides a means to keep ordinary in awe.

As a result, in many parts of the world, state is compelled to reduce police protection and security to common people because of the shortage of funds to increase adequately the strength of the security forces. Under the Washington consensus, most states have landed themselves in financial difficulties. As is now sufficiently obvious, the growing demand for providing security to VIPs and other influential people compels the state to curtail its responsibility to protect common people and continue patrolling in non-VIP areas. One may look around in New Delhi and see large-scale deployment of police and para-military forces on the routes treaded and the areas inhabited by the VIPs. The same is the scene in capitals of Bihar, U. P. and other states of India. This business of guarding the VIPs costs the exchequer huge sums. It needs to be noted that quite a number of these VIPs have criminal background and, in view of this, they should have been locked up in jails rather than being allowed to move freely and protected by the state. Had these guys asked to fend for themselves, government would have saved valuable financial resources and provided better security and safety to the people at large. Criminals would have been kept under check and created conducive environment for business and industry to prosper.
Privatisation of public security has led to another perverse consequence. To illustrate this, let us take the example of the growing craze for private (though wrongly called public) schools in India. Since the rich and the powerful send their children to privately-run English medium schools, they seldom give a damn to improving the quality of teaching in government schools. As is known, these people control the levers of the government and administration and have a big role in decision-making and policy-framing process, they become indifferent when the question of improving the quality of government schools comes up because they are not directly affected. Similarly, since the rich and influential go in for private security agencies to satisfy their needs, they are seldom bothered about the people at large. Henry C. K. Liu is right when he says: “With income disparity increasingly institutionalized in market economies, the privatization of public security amounts to institutionalizing inequality in government protection… (and) to institutionalized inequality in the delivery of the basic political goods by government.” It is obvious that some sort of social segregation takes place on the basis of wealth and influence.

As has been pointed out, the government in a country like India suffers from an utter lack of trained, fully equipped and competent police personnel and funds so that it is unable to investigate criminal cases thoroughly and keep a constant watch on illegal and anti-social activities. The recent bombings of suburban trains in Mumbai underline the incompetence of police and intelligence departments. All this adversely affects economic activities. Since business and industry have to look to private security agencies to guard them, their homes, houses, offices, factories and goods brought in and sent out by them, expenses incurred by them are added to costs of production and passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Thus, in many cases, people at large suffer and producers fail to compete in international market.

Private security service, all over the world, has been fast emerging as an important business activity yielding huge profits. It is strange, but true, that growing threats by terrorists and criminals to the rich and influential have been enriching those who run private security agencies.

In the United States of America, a number of private security service providers have emerged and rapidly expanded their business inside and outside the country. The Wackenhut Services, a subsidiary of the Wackenhut Corp. provides its services to both public institutions and private parties. Its founder the late George R. Wackenhut was  once a high-ranking functionary of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States of America. He enjoyed the confidence and trust of high-ups in successive U.S. administrations. He was thus able to build the Wackenhut Corp. into an international security service firm. In the United States it was entrusted with the task of guarding prisons, airports and nuclear power plants. Thus the government abdicated some of its important responsibilities to the benefit of this firm. It also expanded its business outside America and a number of governments looked to it for protecting their leaders and vital buildings and establishments. One does not know whether there was any informal tie-up with the CIA in the course of its operation.

Kroll is another important private security firm in the United States. Its turnover in 2003 was $485.5 million. The Washington Group International Inc. with 27,000 regular employees is among the topmost security agencies in America. It operates in 40 U. S. states besides foreign countries. It entered Ukraine in 1994 and has been expanding its activities there since then. One needs to investigate whether it contributed in any measure to the so-called Orange Revolution. It should be noted that former employees of the FBI and other intelligence outfits of the government run most of the security agencies in America.

Whether it is in India or elsewhere, the main motive of private security agencies to earn as much profit as possible. Hence they try to pay the lowest possible wages and extract maximum amount of work. Working conditions are harsh. An average employee has to work at least 12 hours a day and sometimes his economic needs and lure of overtime payments force him to work up to 15-16 hours a day. He is not provided with housing facility, medical treatment, paid holidays, provident fund and so on. His service is purely temporary and he does not have a weekly off day. Till now the government, whether at the Centre or in a State, has not given any heed to the problems and hardships faced by the workers of security agencies. There is no union of workers because leading all-India trade union centres have not bothered about unionizing these workers and leading their fight for better working conditions. The high incidence of unemployment among the youth, the increasing exodus from the rural areas, the shrinking job opportunities in the state sector and so on have weakened the bargaining power of workers in private security agencies.

If this trend of privatizing public security services continues, the day is not far off when the job of protecting a country from external enemies may be entrusted to international firms who may, with the help of mercenaries, protect the client states. Thus standing armies may be disbanded and the world may go back to the pre-French Revolution era!

      Girish Mishra,
      E-mail:[email protected]  


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