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A clean military?

Written by Leah Wawro on Wednesday, 24 July 2013

If defence establishments generally lack anti-corruption systems, why do the public in many countries still view them in a relatively positive light?


If defence establishments generally lack anti-corruption systems, why do the public in many countries still view them in a relatively positive light? Whereas the 2013 Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI) found that over 70 per cent of defence ministries lack adequate protections to prevent corruption we were surprised to see in the Global Corruption Barometer 2013 (GCB) that the perception of corruption in the military is generally better than that of other sectors. In the 2013 GCB no country singled out the military as the most corrupt institution. Although the military hasn’t won the race to the bottom, that doesn’t mean it’s winning the fight against corruption.

We have identified three elements which may explain the gap between the perception of corruption, and the lack of anti-corruption systems that are in place:

  • National pride: In many countries the armed forces are institutions that citizens look up to. Joining them is the aspiration of many young people, who see values in the Army, Military and Air Force which will shape them as patriotic, courageous, and strong. It is a positive career path for many young people who belong to families who have been in the forces for generations.
  • Detachment from day-to-day life: In most countries, citizens don’t have a day-to-day interaction with the military. They do, though, with the police and political parties: the two institutions seen as most corrupt by the GCB. A police officer demanding a small bribe affects a citizen in a more direct manner than a much larger bribe to a defence minister, which might come from a company through complex and cloudy channels. Yet the price of the latter is in most cases higher. Instead of pulling a bribe from their own pocket, the citizen will pay for it later: either when their military attempts to defend them with shoddy weapons bought on the basis of greed and not need; or when the money wasted on defence corruption is drawn away from other sectors like corruption-resources-corruption-resources-health and corruption-resources-corruption-resources-education.
  • Secrecy & complexity: It’s hard to see clearly in a fog of secrecy. The defence sector tends to be highly secretive, with very little information available to the outside. If you can’t see the defence budget, like citizens in 70 per cent of the countries covered by the GI, it is hard to have an accurate perception of whether it is being spent well, or wasted on corruption. Secrecy might cover up all manner of sins.

The defence sector is also highly complex, particularly when buying weapons or sending troops to the field. If we take the technical difficulty and specialisation it entails, and sprinkle it with some level of justified secrecy, we can see how it may be hard for citizens to know what they have a right to expect and demand. All of this may result in more generous assumptions about a military institution’s integrity.

Over the years, there has been criticism of several of Transparency International’s matrices. However there is still an important role for perception-based indices, particularly when used in conjunction with other research. The GCB is an important tool because it looks at how ordinary citizens perceive corruption across various sectors in their respective countries. This provides an invaluable overview of how people living in the country see the national corruption landscape.

However, it is important to remember that – on its own – such a study will not reflect the problems that citizens know nothing about. It is for this reason that utilising and analysing the broadest spectrum of assessments, including studies like the GI which use expert analysis and drills down into a particular sector, the GCB which provides views of citizens on perceived corruption, and the CPI which gives an expert view of levels of public sector corruption within countries, should be used. So whilst the GCB may indicate that the public believe defence corruption is not an issue in a certain country, the GI gives more evidence to show that a relatively positive result for military forces in the GCB does not mean that ministries of defence aren’t exposed to corruption risk and can afford to simply put their feet up.

The comparison of the GCB and the GI is important because it highlights a couple of points that we at Transparency International Defence and Security Programme (TI-DSP) know: First, too many citizens are unaware or complacent about corruption in the defence sector because it seems removed from their everyday life. Second, too many militaries are complacent about putting anti-corruption systems in place because the public that they’re there to serve doesn’t demand greater integrity. We can use this comparison between the GCB and GI to inform our activities. It shows that we as TI-DSP must still do much more to raise public awareness of these issues, as well as support and engage with journalists and local civil society groups that are doing this in their countries to stop complacency and impunity.

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Read 4762 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47
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Leah Wawro

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