Homeland Security, and the Perils of Delegated Responsibilty
I rarely have a discussion with our security guys down at the gate whenever I get in and out of our apartment. I shouldn’t because I respect people’s spaces and they do mine. But often they breach this cordial barrier. These guys know all of us by name, how many we are in here and (surprisingly) the nature of our jobs. They know who’s living beyond their means, who’s cheating on their spouses and whose kids are in ivy-league schools. Sometimes they attempt to slice up members of the opposite gender. They are very ambitious. I try to limit my interactions with them. I hate bringing nothing to the plate, considering they already did a background check on my affairs and know me like the palm of their hands. Today was different, though, as you are about to find out.
I am not a morning person, and that has been compounded by the blood-cuddling July-August weather. So when I walked to the gate this morning, I expected just the routine “good mornings” and I’d set myself off to the agenda of the day. Not so fast. At the gate, I noticed a crowd of hangers-on supposedly gathered by one of the tenants. A score of middle-aged plain-clothed men with a few women in between. A strange sighting, a rare chance to intrude personal space and demand a comprehensive statement of affairs. I ask for the caretaker who hastily responds and we get down to it.
Our not-more-than 15 minutes talk (or was it interrogation) yielded a mountain of information, obviously helped by my interviewing skills ( no ethnography here, just dispensing an imaginary interviewer-based questionnaire).
I am informed that one of the tenants runs a private security company in Nairobi (Another tenant runs a funeral company, by the way. I shall talk about the day she offered me a ride in one of the hearses with a loose casket dangling at the back. Horriffic!). This private security provider draws his labour force from Nairobi informal settlements, or slums, if you like. Most of his recruits are desperate school dropouts, or remnants of the competitively skewed education system. The propagators of rural-urban migration, the ambitious caravan who come to the city believing that, with a chance at employment – any employment – they, too, can live a descent life and scale the socio-economic rungs of society. Most of them have families, all have to start from the bottom up.
A desperate job-seeker and a profit-oriented employer are a dangerous combination. Both always get hurt in the process, often at varying degrees. So this private security service provider was hiring today. Not abnormal.
Does he have an office?
Why is he recruiting at his place of residence?
It was urgent, and the catchment area is close here.
Has he won a tender to supply more than twenty guards at a go?
So why the massive recruitment?
Let me tell you something (pulls me aside). Today is the first day of the month, right? Right. It’s payday and employees should be receiving word regarding their July dues, right? Ehee. But those who worked in July will not be smiling all the way to the bank. The people you see here (points at the milling crowd) are here to replace the lot. Injustice! (I yell).
So this is what happens. This private security provider is given a contract by an institution to provide, say, 3 private security personnel to man the entrance and exit of building A, at a cost of 10,000 per guard. This agreement is between Organization X and Private Security Firm Y. So the private security firm goes ahead and advertises for applications to fill 3 vacant slots, with the following conditions:
(i) Male or Female aged 30 to 35 years
(ii) KCPE mean grade D- and above
NB: Cost of training will be incurred by the firm.
(Ripleys!) Believe it or not, those are the only two conditions required to be a private security guard, in this company. Three things are wrong with that picture. One, 30-35 years is the conventional age of “settling down”. A job seeker has tried their hands on several opportunities for a start-up career unsuccessfully. Age is also catching up. They lower expectations and decide that any job will do. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. Problem is, whoever employs this individual will have to contend with a demotivated, desperate money-seeker. It’s what the current high rate of joblessness has reduced us to.
Two, A KCSE grade of D- is the lowest qualified employee you can ever get around, second only to the student who’s examination answer sheet had only his name. Three. Cost of (paramilitary) training being borne by the employer amounts to potential slashing of the employee’s negotiated pay. When the only qualification you bring to a workplace is your age, it’s very unlikely you’ll stay in that assignment longer than you expected. And longevity is not something associated with this private security firm, as the caretaker disclosed to me. And this is where the see-saw tilts.
This private security service provider does not keep employees more than 3 months, it’s a miracle to work in this company for 6 months. To add salt to injury, he fires you just when you are about to get your pay, using a painfully torturous tactic only soulless mortals ever deploy. When end-of-month is nigh, he wakes up and summons you to his office, one after the other. The meeting is short and to the point.
How’s work today?
Nothing much to report about, Sir?
Do you always use the metal detector on every visitor coming into Building A?
I wouldn’t forget, Sir?
That’s good of you. And what about these reports I’ve been getting that a tenant lost his expensive laptop under your watch?
I havent heard anything like that, Sir. I’d be glad if you let me into the details, Sir?
Let you into the details? You mean you are now asking me to do your job? between me and you, who should be letting the other into the details?
I am sorry if I offended you, Sir. But truth is I havent heard anyone talk about any incident of that nature, Sir.
If you are going to let me do your job, I am afraid I have to let you go. I cannot keep defending employees who keep sleeping on their jobs. Consider yourself relieved of your duties. Kindly proceed to surrender all company property in your possession, on your way out.
And what about my July salary, Sir?
I seeeeee! You want your July pay? Then choose between sleeping in a police cell (for stealing the laptop) and your freedom.
All dregs of this society always forfeit the money for the freedom. So it has come to this. A private security service provider, paid 10,000 per guard by the contractor, goes ahead to pay one guard under 2,500 monthly salary, then goes ahead to fire the guard on flimsy grounds without pay, end-month, knowing very well the employee will never take up that matter. There’s always ready market for this crop, demand outstretching supply.
Here is why tenants must begin getting worried.
When your employment status is always on the line, chances are that you’ll take a gamble and make the most of your stay there, often involving unorthodox means of wealth acquisition. Those who value professional integrity and work ethics will fill their pockets by soliciting bribes from the tenants by appealing to your inner conscience – my child is sick, my family is hungry. You’re lucky if you have this group. Very harmless and God-fearing.
There is another group with little regard to conscience and spirituality. They’ll organize with thugs to rob you 100 – 200 metres as you approach the main gate – they know your schedule, especially on weekends. If you are unlucky, you might lose your life in the process. And it’s difficult to suspect these type of guards because the crime did not occur within the premises they are employed to guard, so they wont be answerable.
Do you value your life? Do you know how much the security guard down there at the gate is paid per month? Do you ever care to have a discussion with the guys down there at the gate regarding their conditions of service? You should.