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Security firms grow with economy

Global Security Solutions head John Muller photographed at his office last week in Phnom Penh.
Global Security Solutions head John Muller photographed at his office last week in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Security firms grow with economy

Cambodia’s rapid economic growth has fuelled a growing demand for private security guards to protect businesses and new real estate developments – and the high-profile people behind them. The Post’s Matthieu de Gaudemar sat down with John Muller, managing director of Global Security Solutions (GSS) and a pioneer of private security in Cambodia, to discuss the sector’s development.

What was the situation on the ground in Cambodia when you began your security firm?
I came here with UNAMIC and UNCTAD in 1991 until 1994, and then in 1995 I established the first private security company in Cambodia. Back then, you still had elements of the Khmer Rouge, so it was kind of a dangerous place to operate. The guards when I was here at that time were hired by the UN and there was no vetting of their backgrounds. There was no training, no supervision, no inspection and no regulation. All the guards had AK-47s as weapons. I took the laws and regulations from Seattle, where I’m from, for private security, and I got the government to adopt all the rules and regulations of US security standards.

What were the benefits of establishing private security in a war-torn country?
At that time, in the 1990s, everything you read on Cambodia was about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, so who was going to invest here? I am the guy who convinced the government to legislate for no guns for guards and foreigners. What that did for the development of the country is that people were more likely to come and invest. This was a huge benefit, and if you think about Afghanistan and Iraq, when they become stable, there is a lot we can mimic from what we’ve learnt in the development of private security here after a terrible war.

Has your client base evolved?
The first kind of companies that were here were garment companies. Today we serve businesses like automotive companies, showrooms, telecoms and other major businesses. We have a lot of apartments and office buildings. Look at the growth there, the opportunity for security here is unbelievable. Initially there was supposed to be seven private security companies, now there are 150. We are seeing more professional security companies come here as well, raising the standards for everybody else.

How is the security business changing?
I’ve seen a quicker advancement of people buying and using electronic security systems and this is the future. I’m seeing far more of these kinds of devices being popular. Cambodia is still a little behind, but there are so many companies now that are producing these electronic systems and they are getting far cheaper and far better. Fingerprint readers, all these intrusion alarms, motion sensors, you name it, it is getting cost effective

How is the security situation now, and what issues need to be addressed?
For foreigners, Cambodia is now more secure than it has ever been. The most dangerous places in this country right now are the highways due to accidents. There is no obedience to traffic laws and traffic lights, and there needs to be more regulation and more efforts to address this.

Cybercrime is another area where this country is way behind. There needs to be a lot of improvement in protecting people’s information and databases.
The other area that is kind of weak, for VIPs, is their drivers. Professional driving has got a long way to go, and there needs to be some regulation there to improve that. We’ve put together a professional bodyguard driver course and we will be promoting that. We also have a training course for companies that have their own guards and we are very successful doing that.

What else can be done to improve the sector?
What I tried to promote a couple of years ago is that we should have a national private security training academy. We really need this. Some companies give almost no training, while for others it’s one day, two or maybe five days. So there needs to be a national effort to put all guards through a national training academy. Now they license private security companies, and that is what I started, but it is time to license private security guards.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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