Corruption blamed for attacks on security cameras in South
Following a spate of attacks targeting security cameras in the southern border provinces, the government has just awoken to the problem and is acting to prevent corruption in camera procurement that cost a huge amount of the taxpayers' money.Since many closed-circuit television systems installed in the restive southern provinces are of poor quality and have failed to function effectively, the government has issued a policy that specifications for security cameras must be approved by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.
Just a month into the new year, at least 100 security cameras have been targeted in arson attacks and thefts. More than 400 cameras have been burnt down in a spate of 10 attacks since the latter half of 2011. Few suspects involved in the attacks have been arrested so it is likely that more security cameras will be destroyed.
A report by a House special committee scrutinising this problem found that the procurement of the security cameras was marred by corruption right from the bidding process. Purchase contracts were found to have been altered and sometimes subcontractors have even abandoned their work.
Officials believe corruption is a part of the reason for so many security cameras being burnt down in coordinated attacks. State agencies requested funds to buy high-quality and high-priced cameras but they ended up buying cheap and low-quality ones in the belief that with insurgency rife in the areas, no one would dare to go to remote areas to check if the cameras they had bought were the same as the one they had proposed to buy. "Burning down the cameras sometimes is the work of officials who want to destroy evidence,'' an official said.
Besides, the quality and quantity of cameras are not sufficient to prevent insurgency. The pictures are grainy and cannot identify the insurgents. The cameras also lack an information back-up system, a memory system and a digital map system that could help officials identify the whereabouts of the attack. Many security cameras are cordless, which do not capture clear pictures and do not record pictures when the weather is bad. Many cameras cannot zoom in or out or turn around to capture a wider angle.
As the camera purchase and installations are done separately by different state agencies such as the Department of Local Administration, the Office of the Permanent Secretary and the Department of Provincial Administration, there has been a lack of coordination. This has led to the cameras not being linked and not strategically installed in a suitable location.
Although most security cameras are digital, only grainy images appear on the monitor screens, each of which can show images from four to eight cameras at a time. Another type of monitor may show pictures captured from one or two cameras by alternating from 20 cameras in the system. The loophole in this type of monitoring is the camera being attacked is not shown on the monitor screen and there is no way for officials to know what is happening.
Many state agencies have chosen this type of security camera because it is cheaper and need fewer officials to monitor the system, besides the possibility of corruption.
"The security cameras are of no use in preventing insurgency, if there is no official to monitor the screen 24 hours. We might be able to use pictures recorded if they are clear enough to hunt down culprits,'' an official said.
Under the new policy, the government requires that new security cameras must be of the same quality so that information can be linked. They must be equipped with a warning system in case of an attack. The warning system helps increase surveillance efficiency as it can reduce the workload of officials who look at the monitors of the cameras. A survey has shown that the efficiency of a person who is looking at 5-10 screens for half an hour drops by 50 per cent.
Zooming in on the problems
Problems related to the closed-circuit cameras used in the restive South, according to an ad hoc House committee:
1 Too few cameras
2 The quality of the cameras is poor
3 Installation of the cameras was done separately by many agencies, leading to lack of proper linkage
4 Militants can cut off power supply and thus shut down the cameras before committing their crimes
5 Cameras lack information back-up system
6 Cameras can only record incidents, but lack other special features such as a face recognition function
7 Cameras lack a digital map system, and some cannot record well in poor weather conditions
8 No comprehensive report and management of the total number of cameras in use
9 Corruption in procurement resulting in the use of substandard cameras used
10 Delayed installation of the cameras due to insurgency