With the challenge of inadequate state security personnel, private security agencies have come in handy to support the mainstream security services. However, these private security agencies which offer employment to some youth also have challenges.
The Daily Graphic’s Political Editor, Albert K. Salia (AKS) caught up with the Chief Executive of Guo Security Services, Matthew Tuopare (MT), to have a chat with him on the private security industry. Below are excerpts.
Albert K. Salia (AKS): We want to find out what Guo Security is.
Matthew Tuopare (MT): Well, Guo Security as the name depicts is a private security agency operating in Ghana. We started operating in 2016 and this is a company that I started.
AKS: Why the name Guo Security?
MT: Guo is the name of the village where I come from in the Upper West Region. I am told that when my ancestors were being chased by the enemy, they ran to a side and realised they could neither go forward nor return. So, they said ‘Nguona’ which means we are now in the hands of God. Then I said this is a very good word, so Guo Security means that our security operation is actually in the hands of God.
AKS: Why did you form Guo Security?
MT: I started my career as a security guard and throughout my career, I’ve always been seen to be outstanding anytime I’m given the opportunity to work as a security officer. I had the opportunity to work with the British High Commission as a security post manager. It was during this time that I realised there was something within me that I needed to fulfill, setting up a private security company. So I stepped out of the British High Commission to set up my own company.
AKS: What do you think is the importance of private security in our country?
MT: In the first place, I see it as an attempt to bridge the gap in unemployment to ensure that those people who would have otherwise found themselves in some criminal activity would have something meaningful to do. The second is the passion to ensure that our user agencies get the best possible security.
AKS: Are these your key motivation? Is it also not for the money?
MT: We do not do it only for the money, but more importantly to ensure that the people’s properties are well kept and taken care of. The last is to mentor and train the youth for them to understand that it is not only when you have things in abundance that you can set up a business.
You can start from scratch but the most important one is your attitude to work, so training, coaching, teaching and supporting the needy is another reason.
AKS: You talked about providing protection for properties of Ghanaians. Are you saying that the formal security sector: the police, the military, National Intelligence Bureau are not doing enough?
MT: I am not saying they are not doing enough. They are definitely doing what they have to do but if you look at it closely, you will notice that there is a gap between the populace and the number of security agencies that we have.
For instance, look at the number of facilities all over the country. How many police officers do we actually have? If you look at the mandate of our security agencies as to what they are supposed to do, there is a gap.
AKS: What gaps are you referring to and how do we close them?
MT: We close the gap by ensuring that though an area may not necessarily have police personnel, in every house or two, people who have plans of going to steal would be unable to do so. So, setting up a private security company is not to say that the security agencies are not doing their job. It’s to close a gap between the public and the national security agencies.
AKS: There is this other issue of private security agencies, especially the owners not paying their staff adequately because the private security companies may take a GH¢1,000 from a company and give GH¢200 or GH¢300 to the staff and that certainly also affects morale. What do you have to say to that?
MT: It is a phenomenon that I would describe as a general threat among us. Maybe this may apply to some private security operators, but not all. We believe that the person doing the job must be taken care of adequately, that is one of Guo’s policies and we take that very seriously in our operations.
From 2016 till now, we have not had a situation where we would have a challenge of even whether our clients have paid the company or not. We would find the best possible means to ensure that the workers are paid on time, and also a good percentage.
I can assure you that with Guo Security, 60 to 70 per cent of payment received goes to our security guards. If I have the opportunity to talk to any security operator, that would be one of the points I would stress so much.
AKS: How long do you take to train your staff before you deploy them?
MT: We have a standard practice with regard to training--One month. Within these four weeks, the first week is just to help you familiarise yourself with the attitude of a security officer. When you go, the first thing they would do would be to remove the civilian life in you and replace it with the force life.
AKS: What happens next after the first week of training?
MT: The second week will help you understand what is called public relations behaviour. When you walk into a place, you must have a security eye. In the third week, we try to let you understand what we call access control procedures. Who is supposed to enter and who is not supposed to enter, why is the person allowed to enter or not; that is how come we have what is called specific push borders.
These usually would have to do with operations within an organisation. You would need to understand the terms and order of business; why are they paying me? What exactly do they want me to do?
The last week of the training would deal with documentation and personal hygiene. As a security officer, you should be able to document issues for the purpose of referencing. While we are taking these guys through this, we are also letting them understand that personal hygiene is very critical.
AKS: But is one month enough for the training?
MT: Yes, this is bullet points training. If you want an extension, that takes six months. That is what the police, prisons, immigration would do. What it is basically going to mean is that we would have to camp these people.
And then when you are deployed, you continue what we call on-job training. We take you through certain things which would enable you to become a full-fledged security officer, to understand the details on the field by the patrol supervisor.
AKS: Talking about access control, would you recommend that all agencies adopt that method?
MT: Well, this is a very good question, but you see one of the things every security professional would have to look at is what we call the security risk level. At every given point, as a security professional, when you are advising your client, it should be based on reason and one of the key reasons is the security risk level in that country.
So when the security risk is so high, that is when you would begin a re-engineering of security structures. No client would take you serious if you recommend a particular security system that in actual fact does not conform to the nature of business and the level of security risk involved.
AKS: That brings my mind to the issue of the use of arms by private security agencies, do you subscribe to that and why?
MT: Well, the use of arms by private security agencies is regulated and managed by the Ministry for the Interior, so for me I cannot recommend it. Because the difference between the policeman and the military man is simple, training. I would recommend for private security agencies to use arms if certain models and standards are put in place; that is, a uniform standard across the board that you must go through this procedure and be licensed by a body before you would be allowed to use a weapon.
So by the time you are licensed to hold a weapon, we can be sure that you have gone through the process and your temperament is right, that you would use the weapon at the right times and not indiscriminately, and if you don’t pass for the licence, then you are not allowed to use that weapon.
AKS: With the current lack of formality or official training, are you suggesting that private security guards should not use weapons?
MT: If this system cannot be put in place, I will not recommend it because it will become more of a security threat to the nation because as it stands now, private security agencies do not have a well-defined and structured system. I’m sure we will get there but for now, I don’t think so.
AKS: So back to Guo Security, how many staff do you currently have and where are they serving?
MT: We are in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Koforidua, Akosombo, Tamale and Tema. We are expanding with caution. I always tell my managers that it is not about how big a company is, it is about ensuring that you give the best service to everyone. And if you are not able to do that, with time, you will lose focus.
AKS: So what are the challenges in the private sector security industry?
MT: We have challenges just as in any other business. Most of the clients do not pay at the times they are expected to and yet you have a mandate to pay the guards and you have to do it. The second challenge is the attrition rate, where you have signed for five guards, you go there and you see only two guards because they have abandoned the job. That is another typical challenge we are facing.
AKS: So what piece of advice do you have for the other security agencies?
MT: Security is a risk-cost business so anybody who decides to engage in security has to sow positive seeds. And to get this thing done well, you really would need to be dedicated to what you do, to the core and you really would need to take your job very seriously and how do you do this? The welfare of the people who work with and for you is so important. These are the people who actually liaise between you and your clients.
Integrity and ensuring that you do the right thing is the only way you can be guaranteed of going higher and becoming more successful. You are by this way, bridging the gap of unemployment and serving the nation by reducing crime in the country, supporting the police and military to ensure that we have a safe environment.