Citizen oversight - how to do it?

11/04/2013 @ 16:26
by Thammy Evans

We received an inquiry this week from a concerned citizen in South Africa, who wanted to know how s/he could prompt an investigation into the legality of the workforce and work practices used by a security company. This question highlights a common dilemma for emerging civil society oversight of the security sector. I am not an expert on South Africa, but I can see that in any country reporting illegal and corrupt activity is a risky endeavour, especially if the mechanisms for reporting such suspicions are not well-established and there is a history of impunity.

If a law has been broken then the agrieved party can report to the police (if, and a big if, there is confidence in the police). In this case the concerned citizen may not be personally directly agrieved, so this option would not be open to them.

If government spending is being squandered, then the concerned citizen should be able to report the case to the relevant parliamentary committee via their national assembly representative. Whilst this could be done anonimously, inevitably there is more credence to a complaint if the citizen is willing to identify themselves and provide evidence.

Where more advanced oversight systems are available, an ombuds institution or public complaints commission might be available to receive concerns, or at least a security oversight civil society organisation who would be interested in looking into the case further.

When none of these are available, and in any case, there is undoubtedly safety and more impact in numbers, i.e. forming a civil society group to provide support, pool resources and capacity, and keep the issue alive when the going gets tough. 

For a useful explanation about targeting citizen advocacy, DCAF's recent publication A Women's Guide to Security Sector Reform provides guidance on pp23-31, and the publication provides further advice in the area as well as tools and templates.

If anyone has any specific advice on whom to address such advocacy in South Africa, or useful examples from other countries, please post them here.

1. Margaret Mead, Anthropologist, United States.
26/04/2013 @ 05:18
by Janine Rauch

The accountability of private security is an important issue in countries which have huge private components of the security sector, like South Africa (where private security guards outnumber police many times over).

If the private security company in question is operating on a government contract (for instance if the guards are protecting a hospital or government office), then there are more avenues for complaint/investigation (South Africa has one of the most comprehensive oversight and accountability architectures in the world) .... like the ones Thammy mentions: there are complaint lines and one can write letters to parliament, national/provincial/local government, the Public Protector, the courts etc. If the company is committing any criminal offence, they can be reported to the police and case opened against them, then the police will investigate (if they don't, you can report the police to the Independent Police Investigation Directorate IPID which has offices in every province). If the allegation is related to corruption then the best bet is to call the anti-corruption hotline of the Public Service Commission, or to make a report to independent NGO CorruptionWatch at www.corruptionwatch.org.za 

However if the private security company operating simply as a commercial company in the private sector and is not breaking any laws, then the complaints can be taken to the South African Private Security Industry Regulating Authority http://www.psira.co.za/joomla/  If these are complaints about unfair labour practices, the complaint can be taken up by the employees' union or to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and  Arbitration CCMA of labour disputes. 

A good resource on police accountability is the African Police Civilian Oversight Forum APCOF http://www.apcof.org/country-data-links/