SINGAPORE - A group representing security agencies in Singapore has criticised changes made to the grading system that is used to assess security firms here.
The Security Association Singapore (SAS) said changes made by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) give a false impression that security firm standards have stagnated.
In a statement on Tuesday (Dec 17), SAS executive director Ikhsan Suri said the annual grading exercise of more than 200 security agencies uses a bell curve with "arbitrary cut-off points" and is not useful for buyers in determining the actual capabilities of each security agency.
The SAS statement comes a day after the police released the Security Agency Grading Exercise (Sage) results, which showed only 63 agencies were awarded the A grade.
Security agencies are required to participate in the annual grading exercise, which SPF said aims to differentiate agencies that invest in training and technology, have systematic processes, and adopt good employment practices.
Mr Ikhsan said the cut-off point for the A grade had increased from 95 per cent last year to 96 per cent this year due to a bell curve used in the exercise.
Last year, 62 agencies obtained aggregate scores of 95 per cent or higher and were awarded the A grade.
This year, 82 agencies obtained aggregate scores of 95 per cent or higher - a one-third increase compared to the previous year.
However, due to the increase in cut-off point from adjustments on a bell curve, only 63 agencies were awarded the A grade, said Mr Ikhsan.
"Agencies were also not informed of the cut-off points in advance, because these can only possibly be determined after all the raw scores have been tabulated on the bell curve," he added.
"Therefore, the number of agencies obtaining the A, B and C grade remained largely the same from 2018 to 2019 not because of stagnating standards, but because of shifting goalposts," said Mr Ikhsan.
In response to media queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the Sage, which is mandatory for security agencies to undergo, is a holistic assessment of their capabilities, based on a review of their documentation, site visits, and interviews with their security officers.
It added that the exercise is also aimed at raising the industry’s standards by setting out the expectations of Security Agencies.
“Indeed, since it was introduced in 2009, the SAGE has helped to raise the professionalism and standards of the industry,” said the ministry, adding that most of the agencies have maintained or improved their grades, while the few that perform poorly in consecutive years can have their licence revoked.
A total of 235 agencies took part in the grading exercise this year, which was conducted from June to December, including larger security firms Certis and Aetos.
The grades are valid from Jan 1 to Dec 31 next year.
Agencies are assessed across five categories - processes, people, systems and technology, employment practices and counter-terrorism - which carry different weights in the aggregate scores.
For example, an agency's processes carry the heaviest weightage of 35 per cent, while the counter-terrorism criterion carries the lowest at 8 per cent.
In his statement, Mr Ikhsan said these "wide-ranging" assessment criteria and "arbitrary cut-off points" for each grade do not show buyers the capabilities or competencies of each agency.
In particular, the inclusion of employment practices as a criterion "dilutes the focus of the grading exercise as an indicator of an agency's security operations proficiency", he added.
The criterion assesses, among other things, an agency's compliance with employment law and payment of salaries.
MHA, however, said the assessment criteria used in the exercise are “transparent and known to all security agencies”.
These criteria, and their respective weightages in the assessment, have been refined over the years and changes are made in close consultation with the security agencies with advance notice given, MHA added.
“At the end of each Sage, the results and analysis are shared with all security agencies, with the aim of helping them improve,” said the ministry.
Mr Ikhsan said buyers are also not served "by the sheer number of agencies that change grades year on year".
"From 2017 to 2018, 50 per cent of agencies changed grades. Again, from 2018 to 2019, 50 per cent of agencies changed grades."
"It is not helpful for buyers, nor for longer-term contracting, that the Sage results in half of all agencies in Singapore changing grades every year... It is implausible that the standards of an agency can fluctuate so widely, year on year," he added.
Mr Ikhsan said SAS has represented its views to the relevant authorities and is working with the Ministry of Home Affairs, SPF and other stakeholders to relook the grading methodology so that it will be transparent and helpful to agencies and buyers.
MHA also said it has started work with the security associations and other government partners to review the grading system so that it better supports industry needs and achieve the vision under the Security Industry Transformation Map.
The industry as a whole employs more than 35,500 active resident security officers, according to a speech made by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in July.
Correction note: An earlier version of this story referred to security firm Certis as Certis Cisco. We are sorry for the error.