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KARACHI: The Sindh government has decided to carry out a security audit of more than 1,000 bank branches across the city. The State Bank will lead the project with members of the security apparatus and private security companies to ensure that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed at all commercial facilities. The move came after more than three months of the chief minister’s directives.

Officials said this and a few other decisions emerged at a meeting presided over by Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal. The meeting was attended by representatives of the banks, All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA) and officials of the law enforcement agencies to review security arrangements at bank branches.

“Finally it was decided that a team headed by the State Bank of Pakistan as the banking regulator with members from the law enforcement agencies, police and APSAA would carry out security audit of around 1,200 bank branches across the city,” said an official, citing details of the meeting. “It would check security measures in line with the guidelines defined by the SBP at branches and if not found [in order it] would give enough time to fix it. After the security audit and its report to the Sindh government, if any bank fails to meet the set security criteria, an FIR would also be lodged against the manager of that branch in case of a robbery.”

Bank manager to be booked in case of a robbery resulting from lax security steps

He said the committee — after finalisation of nomination of each institution and its notification from the Sindh government — would hold its first meeting and then formally launch its task. After completing the job, he said, the final report would be filed with the Sindh home minister.

A total of nine banks have been robbed in the megacity this year, with at least four of the heists occurring in August alone. The number of bank heists in the metropolis has dropped significantly in the past two years mainly due to proactive policing and ongoing Rangers-led operations but the off and on strikes by bandits remain a challenge for investigators.

In 2015 five bank branches were looted, 24 in 2014, 28 banks met the same fate in 2013, 23 in 2012, 19 in 2011, 20 in 2010 and fewer than 20 in 2009.

“During the meeting, the police authorities came up with their traditional complaint that banks have been negligent and have not followed SOPs,” said the official. “In many ways, this criticism is justified as a majority of the bank branches are indeed lax about their security. Similarly, the quality of services of private security companies was also discussed and the point was raised that that private security guards are often ill-trained and not capable of resisting armed attackers,” an official noted.

However, he said there was consensus among the participants — both representing the government and the private sector — that protecting banks and all other public and private institutions was ultimately the job of the police. There should be increased patrolling by police units to respond to any emergency situation.

“Moreover, in case of a robbery, the police must respond as soon as possible. In many past robberies, it has been reported that the culprits emptied the bank within a few minutes, while the police were slow to respond. The meeting stressed a more calibrated response is needed to bust the gangs involved in this racket,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017