25 November, London – Security and stability across the Middle East and North Africa continues to be undermined by the risk of corruption in defence institutions, according to new research by Transparency International – Defence & Security.
11 of the 12 Middle East and North Africa states assessed in the 2020 Government Defence Integrity Index released today received E or F grades, indicating either a “very high” or “critical” risk of defence corruption. Only Tunisia performed better, scoring a D.
These findings come against a backdrop of insecurity and fragility in the region. Mass protests – driven by grievances including corruption and financial mismanagement by government – continue in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. Meanwhile protracted armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya show no sign of ending.
Steve Francis OBE, Director of Transparency International – Defence & Security, said:
The Middle East and North Africa remains one of the most conflict-riven regions in the world and this instability has a major impact on international security. While some states have made some improvements in their anti-corruption safeguards, the overall picture is one of stagnation and in some cases regression. Given the empirical link between corruption and insecurity, these results make worrying reading.
Military institutions across the region continue to conduct much of their business under a shroud of secrecy and away from even the most basic public scrutiny or legislative oversight. This lack of accountability fuels mistrust in security services and governments, which in turn feeds instability.
With the regional picture looking bleak, tools like our Government Defence Integrity Index are more important than ever. By highlighting areas where safeguards against corruption are weak or non-existent, campaigners on the ground and reform minded military leaders and politicians can use these results to push for real change. Taking action to improve transparency and close loopholes which allow corruption to thrive would improve public trust and bolster national security.
Defence sectors across the region continue to suffer from excessive secrecy, and a lack of oversight and transparency, the research found. Meanwhile, defence spending in the region continues to surge to record levels.
The countries with defence sectors at a ‘critical’ risk of corruption are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as there is virtually no accountability or transparency of defence and security institutions. Many of these countries are either major arms importers or benefit from significant international military aid.
In Lebanon, a lack of clear independent auditing mechanisms and gaps between anti-corruption laws adopted in the last two years and their implementation contributed to the country’s “very high” risk status, despite the Lebanese Armed Forces demonstrating high levels of integrity and a willingness to remain neutral and avoid using excessive against protesters.
Tunisia was the only country in the region to rank higher, with new whistleblower protections, improved oversight and public commitments to promoting integrity in the armed forces contributing to its score. But the continued use of counter-terrorism justifications combined with an ingrained culture of secrecy within the defence sector prevented Tunisia from scoring higher.
|Lebanon||Very high risk|
Notes to editors:
The full, country-specific Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) results for the Middle East and North Africa will be available here
The GDI assesses the existence, effectiveness and enforcement of institutional and informal controls to manage the risk of corruption in defence and security institutions.
Our team of experts draws together evidence from a wide variety of sources and interviewees across 77 indicators to provide a detailed assessment of the integrity of national defence institutions, and awards a score for each country from A to F.
The GDI was previously known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI). The Index underwent a major update for the 2020 version, including changes to the methodology and scoring underpinning the project. This means overall country scores from this 2020 version cannot be accurately compared with country scores from previous iterations of the Index.
Subsequent GDI results will be released in 2020, covering Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, G-20 countries, the Asia Pacific region, East and Southern Africa, and NATO+.
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Military expenditure in Tunisia has increased to over 2% of the country’s GDP in recent years as counter-terrorism has become a government priority. The country has been under a state of emergency since 2015, due to continued conflict in neighbouring states and increased support for non-state armed actors and extremist groups. Despite this, Tunisia’s defence sector faces high corruption risks, largely due to its secretive nature and the difficulties for Tunisian citizens to access information on military spending and equipment. While the armed forces benefit from a high level of public trust and have made several commitments to strengthen integrity within the defence system, implementation of these commitments has, to date, been uneven. Moving forward on defence sector reforms would improve the military’s ability to respond to potential threats.
Strengthening governmental institutions, including through transparency and accountability to citizens, is also crucial in a nascent democracy such as Tunisia, to ensure that the government is capable of responding to the population’s needs. As part of this, Transparency International established a project in 2018 to advocate for the Ministry of Defence to strengthen access to information and accountability to Tunisian citizens.
We have been working in partnership with I WATCH, Transparency International’s chapter in Tunisia, since 2017. The primary aim of our Tunisia country programme is to promote improved transparency and encourage tangible reform within the Tunisian defence sector, by bolstering the capacity of civil society and supporting democratic civilian oversight of the sector. Transparency International – Defence & Security and I WATCH are keen to engage with the Ministry of Defence throughout the development of the Government Defence Integrity Index, all the while strengthening external oversight of the defence sector and raising civil society awareness of the importance of defence sector oversight.
In order to achieve these aims, we established an independent monitoring group comprised of Tunisian civil society and experts within the defence and security sectors in 2019 alongside I WATCH. The purpose of this group is to monitor the Tunisian defence sector’s progress in implementing reforms and improving transparency and accountability to Tunisian citizens. The group held its inaugural meeting in September 2019, where it identified its top priority issue areas to tackle in the coming year and developed an agenda for producing research and evidence-based advocacy.
Following several years of debate, Tunisia finally has strong legislation regarding access to information. The government adopted a law to this effect in 2016, praised by many as being one of the most progressive access to information laws in the world. However, the law has faced limitations to its application, which include overzealous application of national security related exceptions.
Transparency International Defence & Security and I WATCH (Transparency International’s national chapter in Tunisia) have conducted research to understand how the access to information law is being implemented in the defence sector. We have spoken with Members of Parliament, independent commissions and civil society organisations (CSO) in Tunisia, and conducted desk research. Additionally, I WATCH has filed several access to information requests to the MOD directly, to evaluate the nature of responses received. These activities have provided the findings, and formed the basis of our conclusions and recommendations, outlined below.
The Tunisian anti-corruption landscape has developed significantly since 2011. Tunis has created anti-corruption institutions, issued stronger legislation on public access to information and protection of whistle-blowers, and proposed legislation on declaring assets and probing illicit enrichment. This marks positive progress that should be both applauded and capitalised upon.
Yet the defence sector – which generally enjoys strong public trust – has not received the same scrutiny. Research indicates that it is often exempted, on the basis of national security, from significant reform. Tunisian defence spending has been rising, with an increase in expenditure of almost 64% from 2011 to 2016. But transparency and integrity structures have not kept pace. This presents an urgent challenge. Secrecy and weak oversight are the breeding ground of corruption. And corruption undermines defence institutions, reducing their capability to respond to threats, and leads to wasteful spending. With a national emergency declared and rising defence spending, strengthening defence integrity and tackling weaknesses leading to corruption should be a priority for the Tunisian government.