Less than a month into his new role as Director of our Defence and Security Programme, we sit down with Steve and find out why he joined the fight against corruption and what he’s most looking forward to.
What inspired you to join Transparency International?
I had been aware of TI’s work, especially the Government Defence Index for some time having used the index while studying at Pakistan’s National Defence University. TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index was also in use at the British High Commission in Islamabad during my time there in 2013-15. But while I was aware of the Movement, I hadn’t necessarily considered it as possible second career option while I was still serving in the military. What I was more certain of however, was that when I did retire from military service, I wanted to find a role in the INGO sector that would allow me to continue to be involved in international development. That said, I was also acutely conscious that although I had worked with and alongside good people from the sector before, moving into it ‘from the outside’ as it were, would be a huge challenge, as anyone that has ‘jumped sector’ would attest to. So when I discovered that TI were recruiting a new Director of the Defence & Security Programme I leapt at the opportunity. It encapsulated everything I was looking for. It would allow me to transition from the military to the INGO sector, yet was a role that would allow me to leverage the experience I had gained over a 30-year career in the Royal Marines. The learning curve would of course still be very steep, but it would be scalable; and I sensed that I could quickly add value, while those other – more sector specific skills – caught up.
How has your career in the military shaped your view of corruption?
For most of my career, my understanding of corruption was probably rather rudimentary. When I had come across it, for example as a junior officer working with foreign militaries, it was seen through the lens of low-level criminality. It was generally viewed as something endemic to a culture or a country that had to be accepted as ‘just the way things are’. Sure, we needed to recognise it; be aware of its pitfalls and work around it, but it wasn’t something that we could tackle. Indeed, it wasn’t even our job to do so, that sort of thing was seen as being for law enforcement agencies to take on, not the military. It wasn’t until I was involved in the Afghan Campaign as planning officer later in my career that I started to realise that one of the reasons why the ISAF coalition could never seem to persuade ordinary Afghans to side with the international community instead of the Taliban, was because although we were offering security, we were doing so without also offering justice. To me, the problem we were facing in Afghanistan seemed to be as much about Justice Sector Reform as it was Defence Sector Reform, yet the international community either failed see it as a priority, or simply equated justice reform with police reform. The flaw in my analysis then, was that while I had recognised a symptom, I hadn’t diagnosed its underlying cause namely the affront that is corruption. The only consolation is that I wasn’t just me that had failed to recognise the real nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan, most if not all of us had, particularly in the formative stages of the conflict.
What do you think are the key challenges for tackling corruption in the defence and security sector going forwards?
That’s a difficult one to answer in my first month in TI and when I’m still in the foothills of that learning curve I described. It’s not just the size, complexity and scope of the sector that is a challenge, but also what I’ve heard described as ‘defence exceptionalism’. In essence that (rather convenient) sense within the sector, that defence is inherently different; that by its very nature it has to be shrouded behind a veil of secrecy. Some parts of it undoubtedly do, but in my experience such areas are actually the exception rather than the rule and the more self-aware, confident and professional a defence institution is, the more it understands that rather than a threat, transparency is actually a strength and a safe guard. Beyond that, a much bigger concern are those forces that together are increasingly challenging liberal democracy and the rules based international order. The headwinds of populism and authoritarianism are stiffening, which will make the job of anyone engaged in ‘speaking truth to power’ both harder and in some cases, more dangerous. Conversely of course, it also makes the job of TI-DS – and many others in civil society – even more important.
What are you looking forward to most about the role?
To be able to build an even better and more impactful team around me that can take on the fight against corruption in this most challenging of sectors. We already have a diverse range of fantastically talented and committed people in the Programme and I know there are more out there that both want and deserve to join us in this important endeavour – whether that be here in London, in a sister TI Chapter or working as individuals in support of our projects. I also want to build on the inspired legacy of my predecessor who did so much of the heavy lifting required to chart our current course.
What can we expect for your team in the coming months?
I hope our scheduled programme of work will speak for itself. What won’t be seen by those outside the team, is all the work we are about to embark on that’s designed to improve our internal management processes. It isn’t glamourous and it isn’t why we joined TI, but it is essential. And if we can get it right – and we will – the pay-off should actually be a reduction in the time spent administrating ourselves and correspondingly more time to think about how we deliver lasting impact – and that’s the fun part of the job.