The coronavirus pandemic is causing an extraordinary degree of economic disruption, from local communities to global supply chains. Notably, not a single sector in Kenya operates without the leverage of private security industry. Crises have a way of reminding us of the essential nature of some services in society – such as private security.
COVID-19 is affecting all dimensions of the security sector and brings with it particular challenges for private security. The increased new roles bring with them significant concerns regarding training, vetting and oversight. Looking at the adaptations that COVID-19 requires from private security players, cooperation at the national and regional levels should be strengthened. There is a myriad regulatory challenges and questions linked to COVID-19. The pandemic has not only fundamentally changed the private security industry and its regulation, it has exacerbated existing challenges and gaps notably in regard to training of staff, staff working conditions, and digital work processes.
The first order of the day for all private security companies has been making sure their workers remain safe, particularly, but not exclusively, those who are serving the healthcare sector. This has astronomical financial, operational and logistical implications.
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Private security firms have been compelled to train staff about workstation cleanliness and, in many circumstances, providing them with personal protective equipment (PPEs) along with instructions on how to use it. With all of our members, we have been very explicit in our instructions about cleanliness, hand sanitiser, washing hands, and social distance and space in dealing with people.
Private security firms are shouldering an extra cost for giving highest priority to a safe workplace, with practices that protect the health of employees, customers and other visitors.
The companies have had no option but obtained and distributed resources like wipes, cleaning spray, hand sanitisers and gloves, and instructing staff and officers to wipe high-touch surfaces on a regular basis.
That said, on some fronts some firms are facing a slowdown in payment for services. Managing staffing levels is also a challenge going forward. In fact, the sector expects negative growth of 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent due to COVID-19. In addition to lower sales, the companies are experiencing higher operational costs - all impacted by mitigation measures put in place by government and the companies’ own efforts.
The Finance Act 2020 has exacerbated an already bad situation. Going by filed tax returns, many security guarding services providers did not make profit in the year 2018-2019. The dismal performance is largely attributed to the high cost of labour. It is recommended that a 1% tax can be charged in the difference of labour cost and turnover, to spur employment in the labour intensive industries.
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At the same time, we too petition for review of the requirement on the claim on input VAT Tax. There is going to be a challenge for the tax payer as many businesses have inputs on cash purchases, from supermarkets and fuel stations, etc. Overall, the coronavirus pandemic is the most challenging situation the security industry has faced in recent history.
Now is the time for urgent relief to struggling businesses. Like other sectors, the private security industry urgently needs a stimulus package from the government during the crisis and post-coronavirus revival.
As frontline warriors in the Covid-19 war, their performance has not only helped in the day-to-day protection of people and property, but has also helped mitigate the spread of the virus.
Still, many challenges abound: the most urgent one being for many companies to pay their workers and guarantee sufficient cash flow. The government should step up its financial support structures to the industry. Many companies may not survive the economic consequences of this crisis.
While private security continues to protect the functioning of hospitals, supply chains, and transport across the country, it is important that these companies now receive the financial and social support they require. Their services will be needed again once this crisis is over.
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Protective Security Industry Association (PSIA) and its members will monitor with outmost attention that companies and workers receive financial and social support, and that the economic crisis does not exacerbate the existing problem of low-cost focused procurement of private security services. Security is a basic human need and right.
- Mr Cosmas Mutava is the Chairman, Protective Security Industry Association (PSIA)
-Mr Baljit Sokhi is a Trustee of PSIA and MD Perimeter Protection Limited