The Role of Government

[Author of boxes 17.4 and 17.6 is Maciej Wnuk, Poland. Todor Tagarev is the author of box 17.1]

The legitimacy of all governments ultimately depends upon public confidence in their ability to effectively and efficiently deliver public goods—in this case, defence capability—and uphold the public trust. By diverting public goods to private interests, corruption undermines that ability. It is in governments’ self-interest, therefore, to lead in the fight against corruption. To be effective, anti-corruption efforts should complement broader reform strategies, like the development of a coherent policy, planning, programming and budgeting system (PPBS), with an eye to building the integrity of decision making. There must be a readiness to conform to best practices in transparency and accountability, such as providing timely information to defence leadership, parliament and the public. Effective internal control mechanisms should be in place, supported by easily applied administrative sanctions to correct malpractice in cases where criminal prosecution would be doubtful or disproportionate. Since modern defence management methods require considerable delegation of responsibility and authority, it is essential to invest in building the professional abilities and public service ethos of the relevant civilian and military cadre. Experience shows that with sufficient leadership and attention, the Defence Ministry and armed forces can set a positive example for the rest of government and society.

Corruption Risks

The main areas endangered by corruption are well-known. These include areas of major direct budget distribution: procurement of weapons, equipment, fuel, food and other supplies, infrastructure construction and maintenance, and research/technology projects. Another area with high corruption risk is disposal of surplus property and equipment, which can be knowingly transferred to the civilian sector at a cost far less than its worth. The areas of distributions and admissions offer substantial possibilities for corruption: housing allocation, selection for education (especially abroad) and assignment (especially to well-paid missions abroad). In conscript systems, a particular high risk area is exemptions from service or assignment to less difficult or dangerous occupations. Finally, the abuse of power and privileges provides opportunities for extortion from subordinates. Areas that deserve particular attention are those with limited oversight: flexible operational funds, restricted or “black” projects and projects resourced by foreign military missions (where the interaction of two countries’ oversight systems might leave gaps).

Corruption occurs even in developed democracies, although it is for the most part an individual rather than systemic phenomena. In the MODs of young democracies, however, corruption is more often present on a systemic level. This can involve a broad circle of perpetrators, both civilian and military, and may be linked more widely to corruption within society and ruling elites. Particularly vulnerable are areas where effective civilian management is not yet in place due to the absence of civilian experts (and thus are still under control of the military), a shortage of skilled and reliable civilian experts, or lack of good traditions and practices. Post-totalitarian regimes can face especially high risks due to large a number of defence-owned enterprises, huge volumes of redundant equipment and ill-conceived efforts to close budget gaps. Particularly damaging is the creation of non-budget “special” funds, which require the military to earn its own revenue to meet defence needs. These provide broad prospects and logical justification for corruption by openly promoting commercialization of the defence establishment.

Economic and social depravation can also play a major role in fostering corruption. In the severe economic crisis that many post-Warsaw Pact states experienced during the 1990s, officers’ pay plummeted below subsistence to as little as $30–50 per month. At the same time, there was a severe housing shortage and a meltdown of the once generous social support system. Servicemen faced stark choices: retire and try their luck in private business, moonlight at one or more additional jobs, or engage in corruption. Economic depravation was accompanied by a drastic drop in social status, fed by a backlash against the ills of the communist militaries. As the social status and self-esteem of officers and professional non-commissioned officers degraded, so did their incentive for self-control. In some countries, this “survival period” lasted for a decade, during which corruption became deeply entrenched in defence institutions and the military culture.

Building Integrity in Defence Management

The goal of defence management is to efficiently and effectively deliver the defence capability needed to adequately protect society – the “public good” of the defence system. In democracies, this is closely linked to civil democratic control and public accountability. In other words, governmental structures and individual functionaries use public resources (taxpayers’ money) in a legal framework and under parliamentary, media and societal control. Strengthening mechanisms for effective management, accountability and transparency naturally reduces opportunities for corruption.

Several basic principles can be applied to ensure integrity of decision-making processes, be they selection boards, tender committees or leadership decisions. To the maximum extent possible, these processes should be governed by written regulation. Such regulation should identify participants and their responsibilities (all major stakeholders should be included). It should define legitimate inputs (both in terms of appropriateness for consideration and ensuring accuracy) and decision-making criteria. It should also define legitimate outputs of the process, in terms of public good. Goals and objectives should be documented, approved by the official responsible for guidance and oversight of the process and transparent to all stakeholders. Decisions and their rationale should be set out in writing. Information should, in all but extreme cases, be equally available to all participants. To the maximum extent possible, outputs should be measurable and actions taken to assess performance and provide accountability. Vague, opaque procedures and blurry assessment and accountability are tell-tale signs of embedded corruption. The following paragraphs apply these principles to various areas of defence management.

Policy, Planning, Programming and Budgeting

Effective defence management links resource allocation as clearly as possible with the intended result, be it current operations, improved capabilities for the future or increased social protection for servicemen. This requires, in the first place, clarity and transparency on defence objectives—for example, the roles, missions and tasks of the armed forces—and on the measures that will be taken to meet them. These should be clearly set out in strategic guidance documents that have the greatest possible visibility within the defence system (in the UK, for example, through annual Defence Strategic Guidance approved by the minister) and transparency to the parliament and public (in Ukraine, for example, by an annual public “White Book” report on the status of the armed forces).

... For the full text of this chapter see the accompanying file below.


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