By Steve Francis OBE, Director of Transparency International – Defence & Security
The Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) is the first global analysis of corruption risks and the existence and enforcement of controls to manage that vulnerability in defence and security institutions, highlighting priority areas for improvement. Key to analysing results from the Index is understanding that the GDI measures corruption risk, not levels of corruption per se.
GDI data will be released in regional waves through 2020. Results from the most recent wave – the Middle East and North Africa – were published in November.
On the whole, the data paints a fairly bleak picture for the region. Tunisia leads the group with an overall grade of “D,” indicating a “high” degree of defence corruption risk, while the other 11 assessed countries received either an “E” or an “F” – signalling “very high” or “critical” levels of risk. Regional averages reflect a similar performance across the individual risk areas – political, financial, personnel, operations, and procurement.
With these findings in mind, what can the analysis of the GDI’s result teach us about protracted cases of armed conflict, political instability, and insecurity that seem to characterise the region?
1. In many cases, high defence corruption risk is symptomatic of wider governance issues.
The GDI’s political risk indicators and aggregated scores on anti-corruption themes examine broader issues of legislative oversight, public debate, access to budgetary information, and civil society activity – issues that don’t just impact the defence sector. Indeed, this area of the assessment highlights essential ingredients for any open and transparent government that engages constructively with its citizens. As most of the assessed MENA countries are governed by authoritarian regimes, we should not be too surprised then that these wider governance challenges also exist in the defence sector. Specifically, our data found a clear lack of external oversight, audit mechanisms, and scrutiny of defence institutions across the region.
Table: MENA region average scores for key political risk indicators and anti-corruption themes
|Legislative scrutiny of defence laws and policies
|Defence policy debate
|CSO engagement with defence and security institutions
|Public debate of defence issues
|Defence budget scrutiny
|Openness to civilian oversight
2. Countries with the highest defence corruption risk are also significant arms importers.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria were three of the world’s top five arms importers from 2014-2018. All three received an “F” grade in the GDI, with Egypt and Algeria receiving the bottom two regional scores (6/100 and 8/100, respectively).
The region has gaps in export controls, with only Lebanon and Palestine having ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, in addition to related risks like a lack of regulation around lobbying in defence and virtually no transparency around defence spending.
Although major arms exporters to the region like the United States have rules against the transfer of arms to third parties, end-use monitoring is not always consistent or comprehensive. This is especially troubling given that top arms importers in the region are either directly involved in or are arming parties to the devastating conflicts in both Yemen and Libya.
3. Low-scoring countries also exhibit high corruption risk by blurring the line between business and defence.
While the region as a whole scored poorly on indicators relating to the beneficial ownership (47/100) and scrutiny of military-owned businesses (44/100), these risks are greatest in countries with extensive military-run industries and/or significant natural resources. In Egypt for example, the military owns lucrative businesses across industries ranging from food and agriculture to mining, but has few controls in place for regulating these ventures. In Algeria, a largely state-owned economy renowned for high levels of corruption and patronage, there are a range of potential implications now that the military has stepped in to fill the vacuum following the ousting of President Bouteflika in March 2019 following mass public unrest.
The Gulf monarchies offer an example of how defence and business can overlap at the level of the individual. In the assessment for Saudi Arabia, we found that members of the royal family who serve in senior military positions also have controlling or financial interests in businesses related to the country’s petroleum sector. In the UAE as well, our research found that Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, is also the Chairman of a company dealing in natural resources.
On the other end of the spectrum, the GDI found that in Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia, defence and security institutions do not own businesses of any significant scale, thereby removing a significant source of corruption risk.
As the GDI data shows, the risk of defence corruption in the MENA region is a serious concern with the potential to exacerbate ongoing conflict and instability. However, robust tools like the GDI can help governments to identify gaps in safeguarding practices – the first step in a process towards reform – while supporting civil society and oversight actors in countries across the region in conducting evidence-based advocacy.