Skip to main

Category: Conflict & Insecurity

In response to the review of the UK’s aid investment in Afghanistan published this week by the UK Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“This review adds to the now sky-high pile of evidence that corruption was central to the tragic downfall of the country. Corruption within the security services was particularly damaging, undermining the cohesion and operational capacity of the army and police. Arms and equipment were stolen, and sold to the Taliban.

“Following the downfall of Kabul last year, Khalid Payenda, Afghanistan’s former finance minister, said that most Afghan troops on the payroll had in fact been ‘ghost’ soldiers, made up by corrupt officials who exploited the system for money. The operational capability of soldiers who did not actually exist had proven to be, unsurprisingly, limited.

“ICAI’s new report highlights that the UK provided over £400 million in aid over just six years to fund the Afghan security services, including paying the salaries of the Afghan National Police who acted primarily as a paramilitary force engaged in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban. We will never know how much of this £400 million was stolen, how much indirectly funded the Taliban, or how much it contributed to the overestimation of the Afghan security forces’ operational capability which led to such devastating consequences for the Afghan government, its NATO partners, and the Afghan people. But anyone who cares about global peace and security must learn the lessons from Afghanistan.”

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

In response to the UK withdrawing its entire force from Mali and France ending Operation Barkhane, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“The exit of British and French troops from Mali leaves a fresh vacuum for private military and security companies (PMSCs), in a country that has been devastated by a decade of violence. Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity index indicates that oversight and regulation of these private actors is rare or non-existent within Mali. The United Nations, EU and regional organisations must urgently establish binding regulations governing PMSCs.”

press@transparency.org.uk
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340

Michael Ofori-Mensah, Head of Research at Transparency International Defence and Security, describes some of the dangers documented in our latest research paper.

Unaccountable private military and security companies continue to pursue partnerships that in recent years have led indirectly to the assassination of presidents and journalists, land grabs in conflict zones, and even suspected war crimes.

From Haiti to Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, US-based organisations – the firms that dominate the market – have found themselves associated with a string of tragedies, all while their sector has grown ever-more lucrative.

Transparency International Defence and Security’s latest research – Hidden Costs: US private military and security companies and the risks of corruption and conflict – catalogues the harm playing out internationally as countries increasingly seek to outsource national security concerns to soldiers of fortune.

Hidden costs from the trade in national security

While the US and other governments have left the national security industry to grow and operate without proper regulation, the risks of conflict being exploited for monetary gain are growing all the time.

Hidden Costs documents how the former CEO of one major US private military and security company was convicted – following a guilty plea – of bribing Nigerian officials for a US$6bn land grab in the long-plundered Niger Delta.

Our research also highlights that the Saudi operatives responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s savage murder received combat training from the US security company Tier One Group.

Arguably most damning are the accounts from Haiti, where the country’s president was killed last year by a squad of mercenaries thought to have been trained in the US and Colombia.

Pressing priority

Many governments around the world argue that critical security capability gaps are being filled quickly and with relatively minimal costs through the growing practise of outsourcing.

Spurred on by the US government’s normalisation of the trade, US firms are growing both their services and the number of fragile countries in which they operate.

The private military and security sector has swelled to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030.

The value of US services exported is predicted to grow to more than $80 billion in the near future, but the industry and the challenge faced is global.

The risks of corruption and conflict in the pursuit of profits are plain.

These risks are as old as time. But their modern manifestations in warzones must not be left to spill over. The 20-year war in Afghanistan cultivated dynamics that threaten further damage, more than a decade after governments first expressed their concerns.

Required response

International rules and robust regulation are urgently needed. We need measures that ensure mandatory reporting of private military and security company activities. The Montreux Document lacks teeth, operating as it does as guidance that is not legally binding. Code of conduct standards must also become mandatory for accreditation, rather than purely voluntary.

Most private military and security firms are registered in the US. So Transparency International Defence and Security is also calling on Congress to take a leading role in pushing through meaningful reforms under its jurisdiction. There is an opportunity arriving in September, when draft legislation faces review.

Policymakers have long been aware of the corruption risks and the related threats to peace and prosperity posed by this sector. The time for action is well overdue. No more Hidden Costs.

Corruption fuels conflict and insecurity globally, and we are now seeing its effects acutely in the case of Russia and Ukraine.

Leading democracies have facilitated this conflict by allowing kleptocrats to further their interests and power across the West. Just last week, Transparency International reported on a German state foundation secretly controlled by Russian gas company Gazprom and acting in support of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

 

Daniel Eriksson, Transparency International CEO, said:

“In a system without checks and balances, Russian elites are emboldened to act against international law, now beginning a war in which thousands of lives may be lost. Corruption kills, and governments around the world have a responsibility to address the root causes of such conflicts.

“For too long, leading economies have turned a blind eye to dirty Russian money for fear of standing up to powerful economic interests. Secrecy laws and lack of oversight from authorities have allowed the Russian elite to hide their wealth, funding corruption back home and abroad.

“The West can no longer allow its financial systems to enable dirty money flows around the globe and especially in Russia. Now is the time for governments to put a full stop to the dirty money that fuels corruption and conflict.”

 

As we face a global crisis that threatens to kill thousands, Transparency International call for leading economies to address corruption exacerbating this conflict and democratic decline.

Kleptocrats hide their wealth behind anonymous companies and rely on complicit banks, corporate services and real estate agents in Western countries to move it around as they wish. Leading economies must enforce existing rules to stop now the flows of money funding oligarchs and their attacks on the peoples of Ukraine, Russia and beyond. Equally urgent is a concerted effort to locate and freeze assets that could be connected to corrupt Russian officials in bank accounts and invested across the globe.

For more on Transparency International’s recommendations to stop the flow of dirty money see here: https://www.transparency.org/en/our-priorities/dirty-money

Transparency International Defence & Security will release the full results of its Government Defence Integrity Index on Tuesday, November 16 at 00.01 CET.

The Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) is the only global assessment of corruption risks in the defence and security sector. It provides a snapshot of the strength of anti-corruption safeguards in 86 countries.

More on the GDI: https://ti-defence.org/gdi/about/

The GDI highlights a worrying lack of safeguards against corruption in defence and security sectors worldwide. It also shows countries contributing to or leading major international interventions lack key anti-corruption measures in their overseas operations.

Full results and scores for countries will be published here at 00.01 CET on Tuesday, November 16: https://ti-defence.org/gdi/map/

To request interviews or press materials under embargo until publication, please email the Transparency International UK press office press@transparency.org.uk

 

The assassination of Haiti’s president by a mercenary hit squad demonstrates the destabilizing effects of privatized force. The United States does not have the laws needed to prevent and punish such acts.

By Michael Picard

 

On 7 July, a team of foreign mercenaries linked to a US security firm assassinated a head of state. Jovenel Moise, Haiti’s president, was murdered in his own home by a well-trained commando unit composed of Colombian and US nationals. His wife, Martine, was critically wounded.

This raises questions. Under what pretext did the US citizens participate in this heinous act? More importantly, what control does the US government have over such actions, and is this enough to prevent similar actions in the future?

Contemporary conversations about mercenaries focus on private military security companies and contractors (collectively PMSCs). The United States is home to a uniquely large PMSC industry, bloated by two decades of government contracting in support of the War on Terror, as well as a glut of recent combat veterans with special forces experience.

US PMSCs provide their services both domestically and abroad, from guarding oil pipelines and embassies to training foreign security forces. As the sector expanded and internationalized, so have concerns about the ethics, legality, and impacts of normalizing private force in fragile environments.

US mercenaries have a long history of operating in and destabilizing Latin American countries, which continues to this day. In May 2020, Venezuelan authorities captured and exposed a team of armed dissidents led by two US contractors – former green berets. The contractors worked for a US PMSC seeking to overthrow dictator Nicolas Maduro on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition.

US PMSC activity extends to Haiti. In February 2019, a group of US contractors were arrested in Port-au-Prince with a large cache of weapons and military equipment found in their vehicles. After the US Government intervened, the contractors were repatriated and set free without charge. The contractors claimed they were hired as a private security detail for Haiti’s wealthy elite in light of heightened civil unrest, while also claiming they were hired by the Haitian government to provide essential security services, demonstrating the blurry line between private and public interest in a country like Haiti. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries according to local perceptions of state corruption, Haiti ranks in the world’s bottom 10, below Afghanistan.

These two examples demonstrate how a US PMSC could be hired by sectional interests to conduct criminal operations in a highly insecure environment with impunity. On one hand, such a group could be hired to provide – on paper – official services to a foreign government, such as military training, technical assistance, or executive protection. On the other hand, they could be hired under the guise of providing security for private interests, such as an influential oligarch or a foreign company with local interests.

In either case, however, the US Government has little to no oversight. If a foreign government hires a US PMSC to provide essential defense services – such as military training, intelligence gathering, equipment maintenance, etc – the PMSC would require an arms export license from the US State Department. As stipulated in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the PMSC would present a contract-like document to the US State Department’s arms control body, which would then review it in coordination with the US Defense Department, before approving it.

As a rule, the State Department forbids the authorization of combat services under ITAR. While ITAR gives the government some oversight of PMSC activities, it is highly limited owing to the intangible nature of many defense services. Once in country, there is little to prevent the PMSC from carrying out unauthorized actions, especially when supported by the hosting state.

This was precisely the case with a US PMSC hired by the UAE to carry out assassinations in Yemen in 2015 and 2016. The team carrying out the killings reportedly received an ITAR license to provide the UAE with defense services, likely military training. Yet the US Government has few means to verify that the authorized services are carried out without diversion or misappropriation. Traditional post-delivery verification checks used for tangible defense items are arguably inapplicable to the knowledge- and skill-based services provided by professional soldiers.

Beyond ITAR, there is essentially no other avenue in which the US Government can monitor and control the overseas activities of a US PMSC (unless hired by the US Government). The ITAR definition for defense services intentionally excludes security services – whether for a government, a private company, or a wealthy individual – as its inclusion would overwhelm the thinly-resourced office responsible for licensing arms exports.

Furthermore, punishing the illicit actions of US PMSCs is also difficult. While mercenarism is illegal under international humanitarian law, its definition of mercenary is weak to the point of being redundant. US PMSCs operating overseas are typically held accountable to local law unless they are supporting a US military operation or diplomatic mission governed by a status of forces agreement. This poses a challenge in countries where there is little to no rule of law. Haiti’s justice system is debilitatingly corrupt, and likely lacks the capacity to impartially investigate and prosecute cases relating to political violence involving national elites.

Haiti has long suffered from the exploitative influence of foreign private interests as well as a government that is highly susceptible to corruption. This assassination shows that, in such an environment, it only takes a handful of mercenaries to potentially bring down the state. Without a substantive set of regulations governing the overseas activities of US PMSCs, there is little to prevent their diversion and misuse for subversive, destabilizing actions.

This puts countries like Haiti at risk – and in turn, the United States. It is apparent that any discrete actor can hire US PMSCs to assassinate influential individuals – perhaps even a head of state – and sow chaos in fragile, conflict-ridden countries. When that country borders the United States, it is apparent that US national security is at stake.

 

Michael Picard is a research fellow for Transparency International Defence & Security (TI-DS). Much of the research presented in this blog is the topic of a forthcoming report by TI-DS on PMSCs and corruption in fragile states.

By Julien Joly, Thematic Manager, Corruption, Conflict and Crisis, Transparency International Defence & Security

 

Corruption, conflict and instability are profoundly intertwined. It has been shown time and again that corruption not only follows conflict but is also frequently one of its root causes.

Broadly speaking, corruption fuels conflict in two ways:

  1. By diminishing the effectiveness of national institutions; and
  2. By generating popular grievances.

Both of these elements contribute to undermining the legitimacy of the state, and in conflict this can empower armed groups who present themselves as the only viable alternative to corrupt governments. In turn this further contributes to the erosion of the rule of law, thus fuelling a vicious cycle.

Despite this, relatively little attention has been given to addressing corruption through peacebuilding efforts. As corruption is increasingly recognised for its role in fuelling conflict and insecurity around the world, it is imperative that initiatives seeking to address the root causes of violence and build lasting peace take this into consideration.

As a key element of the post-conflict peacebuilding agenda, Security Sector Reform (SSR) lends itself ideally to address the nexus between corruption and conflict. Applying the principles of good governance to the security sector to ensure that security forces are accountable offers legitimate avenues to mitigate corruption.

Nonetheless, evidence shows that strategies to mitigate corruption often fail to receive sufficient attention when it comes to designing and implementing SSR programmes. Such programmes overwhelmingly target tactical and operational reforms, designed for instance to train security forces or provide them with weapons and equipment, at the expense of structural reforms which would focus on bolstering accountability and reducing corruption. Similarly, in SSR policy frameworks developed by international and regional organisations, corruption is too often mentioned superficially and largely marginalised in favour of the ‘train-and-equip’ approaches described above. However, since the emergence of the concept of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the 90s, there has been a shift from state-centric notions of security to a greater emphasis on human security. In this paradigm, based on the security of the individual, their protection and their empowerment, traditional ‘train-and-equip’ approaches to SSR have shown their limits.

It is clear that transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption are vital to ensure that security sector governance is effective. This means developing new approaches to SSR that, among other things, address corruption effectively.

In many areas, the anti-corruption community and the peacebuilding community would benefit from each other’s expertise. Reforming human resources management and financial systems, strengthening audit and control mechanisms, supporting civilian democratic oversight: these are areas where anti-corruption practitioners have been developing significant expertise over the past decades. They also happen to be key components of SSR.

But drawing from this expertise is only the beginning. In order to promote sustainable peace and contribute to transformative change in security sector governance, SSR needs to take a corruption-sensitive approach and address corruption as a cross-cutting issue. This requires implementing anti-corruption measures as a thread running through all SSR-related legislation, policies and programmes. In other words, this requires ‘mainstreaming anti-corruption in SSR’, which involves making anti-corruption efforts an integral dimension of the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of SSR policies and programmes.

While strengthening accountability and effectiveness in the security sector, anti-corruption provisions in SSR can be crucial in addressing some of the drivers and enablers of conflicts. Moreover, by upholding high standards of accountability, probity and integrity within the defence and security forces, anti-corruption fosters the protection against human rights abuses and violations. Ultimately, mainstreaming anti-corruption into SSR can harness its capacity to create political, social, economic and military systems conducive to the respect for human rights and dignity, ultimately contributing to long-lasting human security.

This blog is based on The Missing Element: addressing corruption through SSR in West Africa, a new report by Transparency International Defence and Security, available here.

February 25, 2021 – Stabilisation and peacebuilding efforts in West Africa are being undermined by a failure to address underlying corruption and a lack of accountability in the region’s security sectors, according to new research by Transparency International.

The Missing Element finds that strengthening accountability and governance of groups including the armed forces, law enforcement and intelligence services – not just providing training and new equipment – is a crucial but often neglected component to successful security sector reform (SSR).

Read the report.

By analysing examples from across West Africa, the report details how the high threat of corruption has undermined the rule of law, fuelled instability, and ultimately resulted in SSR efforts falling short of their objectives.

The report serves as a framework for policymakers to assess how corruption is fuelling conflict, then embed anti-corruption measures to reform the security sector into one which is more effective at maintaining peace and more accountable to the population it serves.

 

Natalie Hogg, Director of Transparency International’s Defence & Security Programme, said:

“Stabilisation and peacebuilding efforts across West Africa have focussed largely on providing training and equipment but rarely resulted in major change. This report details how a focus on anti-corruption and strengthening accountability has been the missing element. Only by recognising and understanding the impact of corruption in the defence and security sector and taking steps to combat it can these programmes hope to transform the sector into one which is both efficient and accountable.”

 

The Missing Element analyses security sector reform and governance in five countries that our research has previously flagged as being at a high risk of defence sector corruption: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

It concludes these interventions fell short because the focus was on providing practical support such as training programmes and new weapons and equipment (with between 80-90% of funding for SSR initiatives typically spent on these) rather than addressing underlying corruption.

The report assesses the main corruption risks in West Africa which are undermining SSR efforts, including:

 

Financial management

Limited or ineffective supervision over how defence budgets are spent present a huge corruption risk, but reforms to improve transparency in this area have often been neglected as part of SSR programmes.

National defence strategies in Niger and Nigeria are so shrouded in secrecy that it is impossible to determine whether defence purchases are legitimate attempts to meet strategic needs or individuals embezzling public funds. In Mali, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, a lack of formal processes for controlling spending has resulted in numerous examples of unplanned and opportunistic purchases.

Defence sector oversight

Effective oversight and scrutiny of the defence sector by parliamentarians is essential to increase accountability and reduce opportunities for corruption, but despite being a key pillar of SSR, parliamentary oversight remains poor in West Africa.

In Ghana, only a handful of the 18 members of the Parliament Select Committee on Defence and Interior have the relevant technical expertise to perform their responsibilities. In Mali, the parliamentary body charged with scrutinising the defence sector was chaired by the president’s son until mid-2020. In Niger, the National Audit Office, which is responsible for auditing the defence sector’s spending, published its audit for 2014 in 2017.

 

Recommendations:

  • SSR policymakers at institutional level, such as United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to publicly acknowledge the nexus between corruption and conflict, and adapt SSR policy frameworks accordingly.
  • SSR practitioners operating in West Africa to undertake corruption-responsive SSR assessments to better inform the design of national SSR strategies and in all phases of their implementation.
  • SSR practitioners to build on anti-corruption expertise to ensure that corruption is addressed as an underlying cause of conflict.

 

Notes to editors:

Security sector refers to the institutions and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security in a country. Broadly, the security sector includes defence, law enforcement, corrections, intelligence services and institutions responsible for border management, customs and civil emergencies.

Security sector reform (SSR) is a process of assessment, review and implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation led by national authorities that has as its goal the enhancement of effective and accountable security for the state and its peoples without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The five countries analysed in this report (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Nigeria) were previously assessed in Transparency International Defence & Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index.

 

About Transparency International Defence & Security

The Defence & Security Programme is part of the global Transparency International movement and works towards a world where governments, the armed forces, and arms transfers are transparent, accountable, and free from corruption.

Two decades after the UN formally acknowledged the disproportionate and devastating impact of armed conflict on women and girls with the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325, we speak with Hon. Florence Kajuju, chair of the Commission on Administrative Justice and Secretary General of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association, to discuss its effect and the need to integrate a gender perspective in security sector reform.

 

Our research shows that corruption has a detrimental effect on the efficiency of security institutions and can threaten peace and breed instability. A growing body of evidence also points to how patterns of both facilitating and tolerating corruption are gendered and are often based upon patriarchal structures and imbalances of power within societies. Fragile and insecure contexts exacerbate underlying gender dynamics that make the varied experiences of women, men, girls, and boys more visible.

The 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security is a crucial reminder of the need to reaffirm the importance of including women and gender perspectives in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and governance. To mark the occasion, we interview Hon. Florence Kajuju, the Chairperson of the Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman) and Secretary General of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA). Hon. Kajuju is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya with over 25 years’ experience. She has previously served as a County Member of Parliament and Vice-Chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya.

 

Transparency International – Defence & Security: Hon. Florence Kajuju, could you please tell us what UNSC Resolution 1325 has meant for you personally and in your career?

Hon. Florence Kajuju: The passing of UNSC Resolution 1325 was a huge gain for women and it is up to us to make sure that we continue moving the agenda forward, so that we do not fail the women of this country and beyond. In my journey as an advocate at the High Court of Kenya and as a member of parliament, I have witnessed how women have struggled to be at the decision-making table, have been told to be in the kitchen rather than to vote, even though we as women make up over 50 per cent of the population. This resolution was certainly instrumental in the passing of the Kenyan Constitution in 2010, as we sought to ensure women were given equal opportunities and participate in the politics, social aspects and economics of the country. At national and county levels, we need to make sure that the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is implemented to the letter and that, in all aspects of civilian oversight, those institutions are indeed able to carry out their mandate.

Kenya also put in place a national action plan in 2016 to operationalise UNSC resolution 1325 and the Women, Peace and Security agenda. As a result of this, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) developed a gender policy. This policy has effectively increased women management in the MoD and I am pleased to report that this notably led to the appointment of the first Major General in the country, Fatuma Ahmed in 2018. Before this, as a woman if you had a child or were breastfeeding, you could be turned down from becoming a military official in recruitment processes, which are not valid reasons to not be part of the military!

I can also report on the increasing participation of women within  peace committees which represent at the community level the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict Management, as a result of the UNSC resolution 1325, and which led to an increase from 14 per cent of women participation in 2013 to 29 percent in 2018. This of course isn’t enough, but it is already a success. We now also have a national budget that is gender-responsive and aims to ensure that everyone feels part of the society. This is a good thing that this country has done.

 

Security Sector Reform seeks to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of a country’s security sector. From your perspective, how can an understanding of underlying gender dynamics at play in conflict and insecure settings help increase the ability of the security sector to meet the range of security needs within society?

To enhance the effectiveness and accountability of our security sector, it is crucial to make sure that

everyone is given equal opportunities, in a spirit of inclusiveness. The various ways in which gender affects the security of various groups should always be considered when building reform programmes. Stereotypes within government and institutions need to be dealt with. Men and women need to be on the playing field together and both be part of the game so we are able to achieve maximum benefits. As a result, a gender perspective needs to be taken in consideration throughout the entire reform process, from the design to the planning phase and to the monitoring and evaluation phase. We certainly need to be better at this in Kenya, especially as we have numerous very good laws, but implementation is lacking. This is why institutions such as the Ombudsman office are essential in overseeing the implementation of laws and regulations.

 

Evidence shows that there is no effectiveness without accountability. In your view, how can integrating a gender perspective in reform programmes help rebuild security forces, in a manner consistent with democratic norms and sound principles of good governance, transparency and the rule of law?

We have a history of having a patriarchal culture in our society, of women being second-class citizens, which we have been seeking to challenge, as civilian overseers of defence and security forces in particular. We have therefore put in place a gender policy, which looks both at the internal system within the Ombudsman office but also externally at the type of complaints that are being brought to us; we’ve looked at the number of complaints that speak specifically to the intersection of gender dynamics, peace and security.  One example of this has been the case of post-election violence which took place in Kenya in 2007-2008; those who were most affected by the political violence were women and children. Our role as the Ombudsman office was to make sure that beyond the complaints being dealt with, we supported the security forces in structurally taking gender consideration on board and implementing due process.

The creation of a dedicated civilian military ombudsman office in Kenya would also be a great move in this direction. It is also important for the Defence & Foreign Committee and the Administration & National Security Committee in parliament to sit down together and originate legislation or amend existing legislation to ensure a gender lens is adopted, in line with the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Once this is done across legislation, this will ease our mandate to ensure security forces abide by the law.

By Benedicte Aboul-Nasr, Project Officer, Transparency International – Defence & Security

 

On October 17, 2019, Lebanese citizens took to the streets in response to a government proposal to tax WhatsApp communications, in what would become known as the “Thawra”, or “Uprising” against widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions. A year after the beginning of the protests, and two months after the explosion in the Port of Beirut killed 191 people, injured over 6,500, and uprooted nearly 300,000, Lebanese citizens still have no clear answers as to why for six years, 2,700 tons of explosive chemicals were stored in hazardous conditions at the heart of Lebanon’s capital. Many suspect that a long history of negligence and corruption, the very factors that pushed people to the streets last year, are at least partly responsible for the devastation that took place on August 4, 2020.

The government response has been uneven and in the aftermath of the explosion authorities were slow to support immediate relief efforts. Instead, when Lebanese protesters took to the streets on August 8 to voice their anger towards a political class that many believe has benefited from Lebanese resources for decades, security forces responded harshly, deploying tear gas and live ammunition against protesters. Two days later, Hassan Diab’s government resigned, noting that corruption in Lebanon is “bigger than the state”. And, on August 13, eight days after the explosion, Parliament voted for a state of emergency, giving defence forces a broader mandate than the one they already had under the general mobilisation adopted to help contain COVID-19. Since then, Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down, within a month of his nomination, having failed to achieve the consensus necessary to form a government. At the time of writing, Lebanon remains in a political impasse, while former Prime Minister Hariri, who had stepped down two weeks into the protests in October 2019, is in the running to replace his successor.

Allegations of government corruption are not isolated incidents, and mismanagement has led to numerous crises and leadership vacuums over the years, which paved the way for the protest movement. Lebanon is now facing one of the most serious financial crises in its history which has crippled the economy. The state has defaulted on debt payments and banks are imposing de facto capital controls on withdrawals while Carnegie’s Middle East Center estimates that close to US$800 million were transferred out of the country within the first three weeks of the protests. The Lira lost 80% of its value over nine months; by July this year and Lebanon became the first country in the region to enter hyperinflation.  Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, the World Bank had estimated that up to 45% of Lebanese citizens would be below the poverty line by the end of 2020. Despite undeniable evidence that the situation was untenable, prior to the explosion, discussions with the IMF had been stalled for months, and Alain Bifani, the finance ministry’s director-general, had resigned over state officials’ unwillingness to acknowledge the scale of the crisis and achieve consensus to identify solutions. The contract for a forensic audit of the Central Bank was only signed in August, and the audit itself did not begin until September.

The international community has offered loans and significant humanitarian aid to support victims and the reconstruction of Beirut. Tellingly, several governments have pledged that they would not disburse aid through the government, and are prioritising non-governmental organisations that have been at the forefront of assessment and reconstruction needs. Aid disbursed through the government, and renewed commitments to unlock funds promised by the CEDRE conference in 2018, are conditional on stringent anti-corruption reforms being adopted and must be accompanied by strict oversight. In this regard, it is crucial that Lebanese civil society and non-profit organisations are granted access to sufficient information to oversee the disbursement of aid and prevent funds from being lost.

As part of the broader powers and responsibilities granted to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) under the state of emergency proclaimed after the explosion, the military has been given the crucial role of coordinating the distribution of humanitarian aid and supporting other public bodies in their reconstruction efforts. In carrying out these roles, and with the additional powers from which they benefit, it is crucial that the LAF ensure the highest standards of integrity and transparency with the Lebanese public. The LAF has benefitted from a high level of trust in the past, and remains one of the most representative branches of government – the institution must ensure that it maintains trust and supports ways forward for the Lebanese, in particular as Lebanese citizens and organisations rebuild.

The coming months will be crucial for Beirut’s reconstruction and to help lift Lebanon out of the crisis it is experiencing. Anti-corruption measures and transparency, not only in the disbursement of aid but also in reform efforts, should be prioritised by the armed forces themselves, and more broadly by an incoming government committed to resolve the financial and political crises Lebanon currently faces as the country seeks international support. The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), Transparency International’s national chapter in Lebanon, has been advocating alongside Transparency International – Defence & Security for increased transparency and accountability of the defence sector since 2018. In 2020, LTA continued to emphasise the urgent need for further transparency with constituents, and for the armed forces to implement access to information legislation to allow Lebanese citizens to understand how the body functions. As the LAF maintain responsibility in the aftermath of the explosion, both for aid disbursement and for maintaining security alongside security forces, clear communications and oversight of the defence sector are critical.

The explosion and its aftermath have brought issues that Lebanese citizens were familiar with – and which pushed many to the streets over the last year – to the forefront of Lebanon’s dealings with the international community. Only by tackling the root causes, continuing to push for reform, and beginning to rebuild institutions in which the public can trust, will Lebanon have a chance to become more stable and pave a way out of the crisis. Lebanese politicians have often shown willingness to commit to reforms when dealing with the international community in the past. However; reforms have then stalled due to a lack of consensus, for instance leading to delays in implementing access to information legislation, or in selecting members for the National Anti-Corruption Commission. As the international community aims to support Lebanese citizens and help rebuild Beirut, they should be wary of attempts to divert assistance, and of mismanagement in the disbursement of funds. Instead, any international and national initiatives should support Lebanese citizens’ calls to dismantle the root causes of corruption, for the political class to seriously address the financial crisis, and for concrete and measurable steps for reform and accountability.

 

Benedicte Aboul-Nasr is Transparency International – Defence & Security’s Project Officer working on Conflict and Insecurity, with a focus on the MENA region. She has a background in international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, and currently researches links between corruption and situations of crisis and conflict.

Governance reforms, including to security sector, are urgently needed

 

23 October 2020 – Transparency International condemns the Nigerian state’s excessive use of force and the continued perpetration of violence against peaceful protesters.

Protests that began with demands for an end to police brutality and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), have since transformed into wider calls for an end to corruption and the looting of public funds. The government must respond to these calls with serious evidence-based anti-corruption reforms, including to the security sector, in dialogue with civil society.

Natalie Hogg, Director of Transparency International – Defence & Security, said: “The appalling violence we have seen against peaceful protestors has to end. The only way to restore the much-needed trust in relations between Nigerian citizens and the security sector is to respect and protect basic human rights. Further repressive actions against legitimate demands for an improved security sector in Nigeria will only escalate the situation.”

Nigeria’s score on the Government Defence Integrity Index by Transparency International – Defence & Security rates corruption risks in the country’s security sector as Very High, with extremely limited controls in operations and procurement. While oversight mechanisms are in place, they often lack coordination, expertise, resources, and adequate information to fully perform their role.

In addition, Nigeria has seen no significant improvement in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index since the current methodology was introduced in 2012. The 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Africa found that Nigerians rate the police as the most corrupt institution in the country. Almost half of those surveyed reported paying a bribe to the police in the previous 12 months.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, said: “Corruption deprives ordinary people of their rights to peace, health, security and prosperity. It robs young people of a future in which they can fulfil their potential, and it misappropriates the wealth of a nation for the benefit of the few. Peaceful protesters exercising their right to freedom of assembly must never be met with violence and brutality. Citizens’ demands for an end to corruption must be heard and acted upon.”

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legal Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Transparency International’s national chapter in Nigeria, said: “The government of Nigeria must immediately stop deploying troops against protestors. The young people who have taken to the streets have a constitutional right to express their grievances through peaceful protest without facing violence and brutality from the state. Together with our civil society partners in Nigeria, we stand ready to work with the government on the root and branch reforms needed to the police and security agencies, and to stop the looting of public funds through corruption. We also condemn the violence and the destruction of property by groups that have infiltrated the peaceful protests.”

Despite promising initiatives, tackling corruption in the Nigerien security sector is still hindered by secrecy

 

By Flora Stevens, Project Officer – Global Advocacy

 

Africa’s Sahel has been plagued with conflict and insecurity for more than a decade, and the recent ramping up of violence in the region is putting already weakened armed forces under increased strain. Defence sectors across the region suffer from low levels of civilian democratic control, weak institutional oversight and are struggling to fulfil their mission to improve security in the face of a sharp uptick in attacks from non-state armed groups.

Sandwiched between jihadi militants operating in Mali and Burkina Faso to the west, Boko Haram and affiliated groups continuing to launch devastating attacks in Nigeria to the south and war-torn Libya to the north, Niger has found itself drawn into these conflicts. The complex operational requirements of bringing security to the country, with the huge distances between major settlements, porous borders and hundreds of thousands of displaced people, would pose a challenge for any armed force. But Niger, like its neighbours in the region, is also grappling with the debilitating issue of corruption in its defence sector.

Transparency International Niger has been part of the fight against corruption since 2001. The chapter works to raise public awareness of corruption issues and offers anti-corruption training to citizens. “This has enabled us to mobilise and engage citizens in the fight against corruption in our country,” said Hassane Amadou Diallo, head of the organisation. Transparency International Niger has recorded a series of major successes in its work, including a long-running advocacy campaign which culminated with Niger ratifying the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2006, and a separate effort to abolish the ‘entrance exam’ to the civil service, a highly competitive processes which on two occasions was marred by fraud and corruption.

More recently, working with Transparency International – Defence & Security, the chapter has been involved in tackling the pernicious issue of defence corruption. Despite recent promising initiatives at national level, efforts designed to fight corruption and improve defence governance have been hindered by a high level of secrecy. It was recently revealed that almost 40% of the $312 million Niger spent on defence procurement contracts over the last three years was lost through inflated costs or materiel that was not delivered, according to a government audit of military contracts. “More than 90% of the contracts awarded to the Ministry of Defence were negotiated by direct agreement, which favoured corruptive practices and overbilling”, said Hassane Amadou. “The competition is unfair, fictitious and sometimes non-existent.” These findings came as the crisis in the Sahel continues to worsen, with hundreds of Nigerien security forces killed in fighting. At the same time, troops on the front line have complained about a lack of kit or being provided with inadequate equipment. Hassane Amadou said the audit that uncovered the extent of the procurement mismanagement would now be subject to a lengthy legal challenge. “TI Niger is hoping a fair trial will take place and that those responsible will be punished in accordance with the law,” he said.

While the findings of the audit are shocking, they unfortunately do not come as a surprise. Transparency International – Defence and Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) recently found that while government procurement regulations are clearly spelled out in law, there is a long-standing exemption for defence procurement. The 2016 Code of Public Procurements omits goods, equipment, supplies and services related to defence and security, which effectively leaves the door open to the sort of corrupt practices uncovered by the audit.

Hassane Amadou said that TI Niger has shared the main conclusions of the GDI findings with those in charge of the defence and security forces in the country. “On the basis of the GDI, we then developed an action plan targeting various stakeholders, namely the Ministry of Defence, the parliament, defence and security officials, technical and financial partners, the media and civil society,” he said.

But while there have been signs that Niger is striving to improve its security sector governance as a key pillar for future development and long-term peace and stability, the lack of emphasis on the issue of corruption could critically undermine the effectiveness and sustainability of the whole process.

Despite the impressive reform efforts of the past few years, including the 2016-2021 Renaissance Programme, the 2016 Anti-Corruption Bill, and the 2018 National Strategy to Fight Corruption, Niger is struggling to ensure their effective implementation. The Nigerien government should primarily focus on closing this gap and on rectifying loopholes that allow for corruption in the defence procurement sector to thrive. This could include revising relevant legislation to ensure it effectively applies to all defence acquisitions, with no exceptions.

It is fundamental for the Nigerien military to fully grasp the intrinsic link between corruption and operational efficiency. An important focus area must be the deployment of trained professionals to monitor corruption risks in the field. There is unfortunately currently little evidence of this. There is no pre-deployment corruption-specific training for personnel and no guidelines on addressing corruption risks during operations.

To tackle the security threats Niger is facing, mitigating corruption risks in the defence sector is paramount and requires a robust, disciplined and integrated approach on the part of the Niger government. It needs to ensure civilian oversight is strengthened through well-functioning oversight mechanisms, while making sure corruption is approached in a systemic or comprehensive manner during troop deployment.