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Theme: Operations

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.”

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In response to reports the United Kingdom’s new National Security Bill could offer ministers immunity from enabling torture abroad, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“If the UK wants to maintain its leadership role advocating for integrity in military institutions worldwide it must maintain the same stringent accountability standards in its operations abroad as at home. Cases of wrongdoing and malpractice must be investigated and prosecuted through formal processes, without undue political influence.”

By Dr Jelena Aparac, the UN’s Independent Expert on its Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence and Security.

The Russian network Wagner, which has spawned shadowy mercenary groups operating in conflict zones around the word, has just opened its first headquarters in Saint Petersburg.

From the battlefields of Ukraine to the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and the war in Yemen, private military security companies and their corporate partners are flourishing from conflict. Despite the deadly force they fuel, these firms remain subject to scant regulation and accountability.

Next week [December 1 – December 2], the United Nations will stage talks on the dangers posed by the Wagner network and other private military and security companies. Governments recognised and began talking about the need to better regulate the activities of non-state security outfits back in 2008. Well over a decade on, they’re still talking.

In that time, the industry has grown to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030. New groups are proliferating, seizing on opportunities to make money from conflict hotspots.

Russian contractors, subject this summer to gold smuggling investigations in Sudan. Wagner, perhaps the world’s most notorious network operating in this sector – often through elusive and locally-registered companies that use an alphabet soup of opaque brand names – has meanwhile been accused of murdering civilians in Central African Republic, in Libya, and more recently in Ukraine.

Latest research from Transparency International Defence and Security underscores the myriad threats that leaving this growing sector unregulated pose on a global level.

Contractors are expanding their sales of surveillance, armed security and military training to many countries around the world, often including nations that have critically weak protections against defence sector corruption.

This growing industry, while sometimes providing necessary or benign support to the keeping of security and safeguarding of rights, has the potential to infringe international law, and insufficient oversight and regulation risks personnel engaging in corrupt conduct or human rights abuses.

Recent reports point to firms perpetrating suspected war crimes in Mozambique. In Libya and Yemen, claims have been made that groups are engaging in cyber-attacks against political opponents, human rights activists, and journalists, and almost always linked to the exploitation of natural resources.

As firms seek to expand opportunities, they are increasingly taking on activities in new areas, such as security around border controls and for mining industries. These often require technical and logistical support, opening the door to bribes to politically connected sub-contractors.

This outsourcing of one of the primary responsibilities of the state, the provision of security, is worrying. And efforts to respond to the risks are falling flat.

Initiatives such as the publication of the Montreux Document, which outlines the theoretical and non-legally binding responsibilities of states, have proven out of step with the risks posed, largely due to the non-binding nature. Similarly, the industry’s Code of Conduct only encourages voluntary standards to be upheld by the companies it audits and certifies.

With the ever-accelerating rise of Wagner, the time to move from words to the establishment of robust international rules and regulation that provide transparency and accountability for victims around the globe has surely arrived.

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.”

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Our latest research catalogues conflict and corruption around the word – harm caused by leaving the privatisation of national security to grow and operate without proper regulation.

Post-Afghanistan, exploitation of global conflicts is big business. Most private military and security firms are registered in the US, so we are calling on Congress to take a leading role in pushing through meaningful reforms under its jurisdiction. The time has also come for accreditation standards to be enforced rather than only encouraged, at both a national and international level.

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.

This report examines the quality and effectiveness of defence governance across fifteen countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia and Ukraine. It analyses vulnerabilities to corruption risk and the strength of institutional safeguards against corruption across national defence sectors, drawing on data collected as part of Transparency International Defence & Security’s (TI-DS) Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI).

It is intended to provide governments and policymakers with an analysis of defence governance standards in the region and supply civil society with an evidence base that will facilitate their engagement with defence establishments and support advocacy for reforms that will enhance the transparency, effectiveness and accountability of these institutions.

This report details good practice guidelines and policy implications that are designed to reduce the opportunities for corruption and improve the quality of defence governance in Central and Eastern Europe. It identifies five key issues of defence governance where improvements are urgently needed in order to mitigate corruption risks: parliamentary oversight, defence procurement, transparency and access to information, whistleblowing, and military operations.

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.

By Matthew Steadman, Project Officer – Conflict & Insecurity

 

2019 was a deeply concerning year for the Sahel. Attacks by extremist groups have increased five-fold in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since 2016, with the UN now describing the violence as “unprecedented”. The past year was the deadliest by far with more than 4,000 deaths reported. Niger lost 89 soldiers in a single attack by Islamic State in Changodar in January, whilst two ISGS attacks in Mali in November claimed the lives of 92 soldiers. In Burkina Faso alone, 1,800 people were killed in the past year due to extremist violence. The intensification of extremist activity in the Sahel threatens to engulf West African coastal states, as already weakened national defence and security forces come under increasing pressure. Much international coverage of the developing events has focussed on the operational aspect of the crisis, from the various armed groups operating in the region to the international response, spearheaded by France’s Operation BARKHANE but also including MINUSMA, the G5 Sahel, the United States and the EU. However, one aspect that has been regularly overlooked is the poor capacity of the region’s national defence forces to respond to security threats as a result of poor defence governance, corruption and weak institutions.

Corruption and conflict go hand in hand, with corruption often fuelling violence and subsequently flourishing in afflicted regions. Because of corruption and poor governance, defence and security actors are often seen not as legitimate providers of security, but as net contributors to the dynamics of conflict; with poor training, management and institutional support leading to a downward cycle in which it is the civilians that more than often feel the brunt – as has been seen in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mali. When security institutions are perceived as corrupt, public confidence in government erodes further. Fragile governments that are unable to respond to the needs of citizens can exacerbate existing grievances, heightening social tensions and hastening the onset of violence. Across the Sahel, armed groups have been able to entrench themselves first and foremost in those areas which have been neglected by weakened and corrupt central authorities, often by positioning themselves as providers of security, justice and basic services. In this way, it is crucial to view corruption not just as the consequence of conflict, but more often as its root cause and therefore a critical element for any attempt at resolution to address.

Against this backdrop, research by Transparency International – Defence & Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), highlights the deficiencies in the safeguards which should provide protection against corruption in the defence sectors of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, increasing the likelihood of defence funds and capabilities being wasted due to mismanagement of human, material and financial resources. In doing so, the GDI outlines a number of key issues which need to be addressed in order to enhance security forces’ ability to respond to threats and protect local communities:

Reinforce parliamentary oversight

Despite most countries having formal independent oversight mechanisms for defence activities, policies and procurement, our research has found that these are often only partially implemented, easily circumvented and insufficiently resourced to carry out their mandates. The result, is defence sectors which are still largely the preserve of the ruling elite and shrouded in secrecy, raising concerns over the use of vital defence funds and the management of resources and assets.

Strengthen anti-corruption measures in personnel management and military operations

Personnel management systems are also vulnerable, with inadequate or non-existent whistleblowing protections and reporting mechanisms, unclear appointment, and promotion systems open to nepotism, and codes of conduct which fail to specifically mention corruption or enforce appropriate sanctions. Equally, despite many countries in the region being actively engaged in on-going counter insurgencies, there is no evidence of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso or Nigeria having up to date doctrine which recognises corruption as a strategic threat to operations, meaning there is little if any appropriate training on the pitfalls associated with operating in corrupt environments and little appreciation of how soldiers’ conduct might exacerbate the violence they are trying to quell.

Increase transparency and external oversight of procurement processes

Perhaps most concerning of all is that corruption risks in defence procurement remain extremely high across the region. The procurement process is opaque and largely exempt from the checks and balances which regulate other areas of public procurement in countries like Mali and Niger for instance. Across the region, the effectiveness of audit and control mechanisms over the acquisition of military goods and services is heavily restricted by blanket secrecy clauses and over-classification of defence expenditure. This raises serious concerns over the utility, relevance and value for money of purchased equipment and increases the risk of that frontline troops will not have the resources required to deliver security.

Despite these structural vulnerabilities, international assistance in the region has been heavily focussed on security assistance rather than on improving the underlying structures that govern and manage defence and security in the states that make up the region. The 13th January summit between French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel countries, was emblematic of this with the meeting focussed on reaffirming France’s military presence in the region and announcing the deployment of further troops, whilst side-lining the governance deficit which underlies so much of the crisis. Programmes have tended to focus on training and equipping military and police forces in Mali and Burkina Faso for instance, or improving strike capabilities by investing in US drone bases in Niger. The concern however, is that the impact of these efforts will be blunted without a more sustained engagement in addressing the more fundamental failings that lay at the hearty of the problem. Mali’s recent announcement of a recruitment drive for 10,000 new defence and security forces personnel for example, will only be effective if it is accompanied with improvements in the way these troops are trained, led, equipped and managed and if the political and financial processes which govern them are strengthened and corruption risks reduced.

A successful response, at the national, regional and international levels, to the violence cannot be just security focussed. Poor defence governance and corruption risks will continue to hamper national forces’ operations and will hinder the impact of international efforts which support them. A more comprehensive approach is needed which addresses the underlying corruption risks which permeate the region’s defence sectors.  Improving oversight, transparency and accountability is a critical step in securing a sustainable peace in the region and ensuring that defence and security apparatuses do what they should, which is to further the human security of populations that they should be serving.

January 14, 2020 – Sweeping reforms to controls on American arms sales abroad are increasing holes in checks to identify and curb corruption – measures that can also be used to assess whether sales may help or hurt efforts to address terrorist threats and attacks – according to new research by Transparency International Defense & Security.

Launched today, Holes in the Net assesses the current state of US arms export controls by examining corruption risk in three of the most prominent sales programs, which together authorized at least $125 billion in arms sales worldwide for fiscal year 2018.

Across all three different arms sales programs, which are managed by the Defense, State, and Commerce Departments, there is a clear gap in American efforts to assess critical, known corruption risk factors. This include the risks of corrupt practices – such as theft of defense resources, bribery, and promoting military leaders based on loyalty instead of merit – weakening partner military forces.

The United States is one of the biggest arms exporters to countries identified as facing ‘critical’ corruption risk in their defense sector, including Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, according to recent analysis by Transparency International – Defense & Security.

Steve Francis OBE, Director of Transparency International – Defense & Security, said:

“Given the corrosive effect corruption has on military effectiveness and legitimacy, it is deeply concerning to see that these reforms to American arms export controls have made it easier for practices like bribery and embezzlement to thrive.  In order to ensure American arms sales do not fuel corruption in countries like Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, it is imperative to understand and mitigate the corruption risks associated with countries receiving US-made weapons before approving major arms deals.”

Of the three programs assessed in the report – Foreign Military Sale, Direct Commercial Sale, and the 600 Series – the 600 Series was identified as having the biggest gaps in its anti-corruption measures. Overseen by the Commerce Department, sales through this program do not require declarations on a series of major corruption risk areas, including on certain arms agents or brokers, political contributions, company subsidiaries and affiliates, and any defense offsets. These areas are common conduits used for bribery and political patronage.

More recently, the Trump administration has proposed moving many types of semi-automatic firearms and sniper rifles to Commerce Department oversight. The proposal calls for additional controls for firearms, but also reduces overall oversight of small and light weapons exports.

 Colby Goodman, Transparency International – Defense & Security consultant and author of the report, said:

“Over the past 30 years, America has established some of the strongest laws to prevent bribery and fraud by defense companies engaged in arms sales. However, defense companies selling arms through the 600 Series program no longer have to comply with key anti-corruption requirements. As a result, US officials will likely find it harder to identify and curb bribery and fraud in sales of arms overseen by the Commerce Department.”

The report analyzed five priority corruption risk factors for American arms sales programs: 1) Ill-defined and unlikely military justification; 2) Undisclosed or unfair promotions and salaries in recipient countries; 3) Under-scrutinized and illegitimate agents, brokers and consultants; 4) Ill-monitored and under-publicized defense offset contracts, and 5) Undisclosed, mismatched or secretive payments.

The report makes a series of policy recommendations that would help strengthen anti-corruption measures in these prominent arms sale programs, including:

  • Creating a corruption risk framework for assessing arms sales through programs managed by the Defense, State, and Commerce Departments. These assessment frameworks must examine key risk factors identified in our report, including theft of defense resources and promoting military leaders based on loyalty instead of merits, among others.
  • Strengthening defense company declarations and compliance systems for sales of arms overseen by the Commerce Department, including declarations of any defense company political contributions, marketing fees, commissions, defense offsets, and financiers and insurance brokers of arms – all clear conduits for corruption.
  • Increasing transparency on arms sales and actions to combat arms trafficking overseen by the Defense, State, and Commerce Department. Critically, the Defense and State Departments need more details on defense offsets in order to properly review proposed arms sales. There is virtually no information on Commerce Department approved arms sales.
  • Legislation requiring for firearms and associated munitions to remain categorized as munitions to ensure further relaxing of export controls do not adversely impact US national security or foreign policy objectives.

Notes to editors:

Interviews are available with the report author.

Holes in the Net is available to download here.

Saudi Arabia, a major importer of US-made arms, failed to defend against an attack on its oil facilities in September 2019. Reports have suggested that corrupt ‘coup-proofing’ measures designed to shield the ruling family likely contributed to the ineffective response.

Contact:

Harvey Gavin

harvey.gavin@transparency.org.uk

+44 (0)20 3096 7695

+44 (0)79 6456 0340

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

Question Indicator/Theme Score Grade
Q1 Legislative scrutiny of defence laws and policies 15 F
Q3 Defence policy debate 9 F
Q4 CSO engagement with defence and security institutions 15 F
Q6 Public debate of defence issues 23 E
Q13 Defence budget scrutiny 10 F
Q17 External Audit 8 F
Aggregate Openness to civilian oversight 14 F
Aggregate Oversight 14 F
Aggregate Budgets 15 F
Aggregate Transparency 15 F
Aggregate Undue influence 19 E

 

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.

Bénédicte Aboul-Nasr is a Project Officer at Transparency International Defence and Security. She works on issues related to corruption, conflict, and insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as on how corruption affects United Nations Peacekeeping.

This week, Member States are convening for the 74th Session of General Assembly, during which they will discuss the general affairs of the United Nations. This will include a session focusing on a comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations.

Last September, the Security Council held its first meeting on corruption, underlying its relationship to global insecurity. Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised these links, noting that: ‘Regrettably, there is currently no coordinated strategy to gain the necessary leverage … to break the link between corruption and conflict’. The sentiments were echoed by the UK, calling corruption ‘an insidious plague’; and the Executive Director of our chapter in Venezuela made the same argument. And while not often discussed, links between corruption and the conflicts which the UN seeks to address with peacekeeping operations should be discussed.

There is no doubt that corruption breeds conflict and insecurity, as well as poverty and inequality. Six of the ten lowest-scoring countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index were also amongst the ten least peaceful countries in the most recent Global Peace Index. Transparency International’s research has long highlighted that addressing corruption can help prevent and address the very conflicts the UN finds itself involved in.

The Secretary-General has praised peacekeeping for its instrumental role in supporting peace and security – all the while acknowledging shortcomings and promising to reform performance and accountability and the conduct of peacekeepers and peacekeeping operations throughout his ‘Action for Peacekeeping’ (‘A4P’) initiative. Whilst those fighting corruption around the world will welcome his strong words, newly implemented reforms and a persistent focus on the challenges operations face present an even better opportunity for the UN to do more to root out corruption within its ranks.

Corruption undermines the chances of mission success, particularly of complex UN peacekeeping missions in the most high-risk areas of the world. Where fuel supplies are sold off, for example, troop mobility is reduced; when soldiers have paid to become blue helmets instead of earning their post through merit, missions may lack the skills they need; and when a blind eye is turned to smuggling, it enriches combatants and fuels further conflict. Such misconduct also reduces public trust in the ability of intervention forces to secure the peace.

The increasing discussions around corruption and conflict are a welcome step to beginning to address the problem. But as is so often the case, taking serious action is harder. In order to make words a reality, the UN will need to address corruption within its own systems, and figure out how to deal with corrupt governments in the areas where peace operations are in place – in particular if leaders are more focused on self-enrichment than on the needs of the population or the fulfilment of a UN mandate.

A leaked staff survey of the Secretariat in December 2017 had depressing findings: 50% of staff doubt people at all levels are held accountable for ethical behaviour; 55% were not confident that ‘UN staff members will be protected from retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with an authorised audit or investigation’. Far from New York, the problem can have immediate with dire consequences for the hope of lasting peace.

So how can the UN go from public statements to actually handling the issue?

The UN Secretariat should strengthen its commitment to tackling corruption and the associated risks, particularly in the context of peace operations. To do so, the Secretary-General could issue a direction providing greater clarity on the responsibilities of Troop and Police Contributing Countries; in particular, when it comes to investigating instances of corruption and holding individuals responsible for misconduct to account within their national judicial systems. Whistleblowers – one of the best ways of identifying corruption – should be encouraged to come forward. Ultimately, holding perpetrators to account is often the best way to shift an institutional culture away from turning a blind eye, or even condoning graft.

The UN also needs people in the organisation with the mandate, expertise and capacity to get to grips with this issue – from understanding the risks on the ground to navigating corruption risks in one of the world’s largest and most complex bureaucracies.

Guterres was right when he said that ‘In peace operations, our engagement should be designed and implemented with a clearer anti-corruption lens to reinforce a culture of accountability and respect for the rule of law.’ But in a Member State organisation, this will be tough. The sad truth is that many governments in states where there are UN operations are kleptocratic or based around highly corrupt regimes and networks – often in direct contravention to the UN’s aims and to mission mandates. Operating with an ‘anti-corruption lens’ will not mean just improving procedures, but making difficult political decisions; ultimately, the UN has to be willing to put its goals in peace operations over the interests of diplomacy, if it is to successfully implement its own peacekeeping mandates.

Transparency International wants to help the UN fulfil its aims and support its efforts to strengthen peace and security worldwide. In July, we published an assessment of corruption risks within UN bodies relating to peacekeeping, to illuminate the dynamics of corruption and better support efforts to address it. TI’s Defence and Security Programme is also working on a toolkit for those leading international interventions to help officials, commanders and their planners chart a course through the challenges of conducting operations in high-risk, corrupt environments and understand the ways of responding to corruption.

If admitting to a problem is the first step to solving it, then the UN is on a much better path than it has been, and Guterres should be commended for this. But now is the time to start the next round of the heavy lifting needed to weave a more consistent approach to tackling corruption into the fabric of the organisation and its missions. Doing so promises to make UN operations more effective, cheaper, and better able to serve the interests of the most vulnerable.

Not tackling the underlying dynamics at the root of a conflict, and inadvertently sustaining or even reinforcing it, merely serves to prolong a peace intervention and can end up sowing the seeds of the next crisis. If the UN is serious about reducing the root of conflicts — all of which will be discussed in much detail over the coming weeks — it should ensure that its own operations are capable of responding to the very corruption risks they are vulnerable to — regardless of political sensitivities.