5th March 2000

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VIP security: top heavy

VIP security is a "protection racket", says a writer in a Indian publication, observing snidely that though New Delhi uses 13 percent of its police-force to guard 400 VIPs, the Israeli Prime Minister in contrast-"though one of the most threatened politicians on earth'-is so inconspicuously guarded that ordinary people hardly notice his security entourage. VIP security in India is a matter of "quantity over quality," the writer adds.

We seem to have taken a leaf from India's book rather than Israel's. Security is not just a protection racket here, it seems to be developing into a whole anti-civic enterprise. The crassness of VIP security men were recently witnessed in the Kandy Independence Day incident when a High Court judge was abused by an OIC of the Traffic Police.

VIP security here is visibly top heavy, and security juggernauts accompanying VIPs are such that they operate by the force of intimidating other motorists off the road. The Indian writer quoted above says that in "1997 a scooterist was beaten to pulp when he happened to have a brush with a security entourage." We have had our own parallels, perhaps spoken about less because sometimes the security men themselves have been the victims. A police motorcyclist attached to the President's security detail was killed around last year in a head on collision most probably because of excessive speed.

The Justice Minister's back-up Pajero backed at high speed and killed a lady outside the new Kandy Court-Complex etc.

But road manners are the milder manifestation of security buffoonery, considering that VIP security in general has ballooned into a grotesque political charade. A VIP is now identified by the cops around him the going principle being that the number of policemen are supposed to be directly proportional to the importance of the VIP.

Last week, government is reported to have approved a request to recruit 1500 more policemen for VIP security, a move that goes directly in contrast to the effort in India to recognize the problem of bloated VIP security details. The Home Ministry there has taken a decision to prune VIP security, in order that India doesn't expend its police-force to "protect freeloaders who demand security on exaggerated threat perceptions."

"Threat perception" may be a clinical term, and maybe it can be argued that the prevalence of threat is definite and tangible in a country such as ours in which VIPs are increasingly being subject to terrorist attacks. But, even so, "threat perceptions" do not necessarily justify the sort of mafia type security culture that has been spawned in our country due to the fact that VIP security has acquired priority status.

The fact as the Israeli example shows, is that VIP security can be done unobtrusively without the creation of obnoxious VIP mafias that are a civic menace. Also, what is wholly unnecessary and a drain on the national exchequer is the fact that VIP security has become, as in India, a status symbol for politicians.

Many security men, it is known, are being used as adjuncts of the VIPs' domestic force in simpler terms, being used as general factotums to fetch the kids from school and do the weekly marketing. This is especially true for instance, of security men detailed to protect Provincial Councilors and other "middle level" politicos.

Again, in India, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her own residence, an investigation found policemen making tea for visitors.

This political culture of creating petty "paramilitary" security mafias for VIPs is not only obnoxious but dangerous, as it was seen recently when some of the President's own security men were found to be involved in various nefarious pursuits.

This is not to tar the President's entire security detail with the same brush; but the fact is that VIP security spawns a certain mentality of arrogance among men who think that being close to a VIP is a license to abuse their powers and harass civilians.

Ask the IGP if he doesn't agree.

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