Africa’s defence sector at risk from corruption


Most of Africa is at medium to high risk of defence sector corruption, with a big problem being a lack of oversight of military expenditure, and corruption on operations, which exacerbates insecurity, according to a new report from Transparency International (TI).

One of the key findings of TI’s recently released Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index 2015 results for Africa was that despite increased defence spending across many states, increases in defence spending are not necessarily enhancing state security. Too often procurement decisions are taken with little reference to strategic requirements, military effectiveness is eroded by poor controls on personnel, while forces are repurposed for commercial ends, TI said.

The 47 countries studied in TI’s report on Africa spent approximately $40 billion on military expenditure in 2014, comprising around .02% of global military spending. Over the last decade, 2 out of every 3 African countries have substantially increased their military spending, with total defence spending across the continent increasing by 91% since 2005.
“But there is little evidence that this spending is in the public interest, or that those spending it are held to account when funds are misappropriated. In many of the countries where spending is rapidly rising, the development of effective oversights mechanisms is failing to keep pace. Defence budgets are mostly exempt from external scrutiny, and the arms and equipment subsequently purchased are rarely well-planned or effectively accounted for,” TI said, adding that nearly 40% of the countries surveyed do not publish their defence budgets at all. Those that do provide only highly aggregated figures.

With regard to procurement not needing strategic needs, Transparency International said that in nearly 70% of the countries surveyed, there is no evidence at all that procurement decisions are based on any national strategy or analysis of national security requirements, which increases the risk of opportunistic purchases. Of the countries surveyed, 20 had no formal legislation covering defence and security procurement. Of the countries that do have relevant legislation, only in 13 countries were there signs of active oversight mechanisms. Instead, arms purchases are often made opportunistically, as a result of private or political motivation.

Some examples of suspect procurement included the Ugandan legislature not being consulted in advance of the $740 million purchase of six Russian SU-30 fighter jets in 2011, which should only have cost $327 million, and the 2011 purchase of two Mirage fighter jets by the Republic of Congo despite the fact that foreign military experts have stated that the air force ‘has ceased to exist as a military fighting unit.’

The organisation also said that although defence spending is rising, institutional capacity is lagging. “In many cases oversight functions exist in the form of anti-corruption bodies, audit functions, and/or parliamentary committees, but defence institutions are largely exempt from scrutiny.”

Transparency International cautioned that poor controls on personnel and the manipulation of payment systems and salaries are corroding military effectiveness. “Mechanisms for controlling corruption by defence personnel are generally weak across the region. Governance through patronage is prevalent – whether through family, tribal, sectarian, or other connections. This blocks the most capable from filling positions on merit, undermining institutions as a whole.
“In many states, the salaries of military personnel are particularly vulnerable to manipulation by those further up the chain, facilitating the diversion of resources by senior officials and commanders. This has implications for military effectiveness and morale, and poses security risks as disenfranchised personnel look for other opportunities to supplement their income, or simply do not show up at all.
“In total, 34 out of 47 African states in the index have considerable shortcomings in the clarity and transparency of their payment systems…While Liberia, Uganda, Namibia, Niger, and South Africa provide information on payment and allowances, it is not comprehensive. In nearly 80% of the countries surveyed, the number of civilian and military personnel is either not known or believed to be inaccurate.”

For instance, in Uganda, ghost soldiers have lost the government an estimated $324 million over the past 20 years and in Somalia, in 2010 there were reports of hundreds of Somali soldiers deserting because they did not receive their $100 monthly stipend, with some joining militia movements.

However, some countries scored better than average such as South Africa, which publishes salaries in the Department’s Annual Report, and Kenya and Guinea, which both used biometrics to identify ghost soldiers and employees.

Transparency International highlighted some instances of military forces being repurposed for commercial ends. For instance, the Eritrean military state puts the entire population to work; in Ghana, the armed forces started operating their own bank in 2013; there are reports of Tanzania People’s Defence Force and other security officials being involved in the highly lucrative trade of elephant tusks; and in Somalia, there is strong evidence that military personnel have transferred arms to open markets, and even directly to al Shabaab.

TI reported that corruption is undermining public trust in the government and the armed forces, as well as posing a major threat to the success of operations. The Index found that in only Rwanda and Tunisia do the public believe there is a clear commitment from the defence establishment to tackle corruption. In 15 countries, the public believes that defence establishment is largely indifferent to tackling corruption while in the remaining 23 countries studied, the public viewed the military’s ability and will to address corruption as insufficient.

For instance, In Nigeria, the former National Security Advisor stands accused of stealing more than $2 billion intended for weapons and equipment to fight Boko Haram, a movement that has been linked to over 10,000 civilians and security personnel deaths in recent years.

One of the key findings of TI’s report is that corruption is posing a major threat to the success of African peacekeeping operations, such as those in Somalia, Darfur and the Central African Republic, and there is evidence in the Index that it is not only undermining performance, but also facilitating insecurity and at times benefitting terrorist organisations.

For instance, in Somalia, senior Kenya Defence Forces officials within the African Union Mission in Somalia are believed to have facilitated the illicit trade of sugar and charcoal in Somalia. The proceeds from their operation, estimated to be between $200-400 million, are presumed to have directly profited al Shabaab.

And finally, TI found that international arms exports are profiting from conflict and insecurity. For instance, France and Russia have accelerated the arms race between Algeria and Morocco; China continues to supply weapons to South Sudan, apparently in exchange for oil; and China has supplied weapons to Zimbabwe and the DRC in spite of EU embargoes.

South Africa

South Africa faces a high risk of corruption when it comes to defence, with particular risk of corruption on operations, according to TI. South Africa’s overall Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index ranking is Band D (on a scale of A to F), although some areas did better than others. For instance, South Africa scored slightly higher for Political and Personnel Risks, which scored in Band C. The highest risk areas are Procurement (in Band D) and Operations in Band E (very high risk).

Regarding political power structures and favouritism, TI noted that political considerations play a strong role in the promotions of personnel and alignment to the ANC appears to increase one’s chances of selection and promotion, even when there is no position to be filled. “This may be one reason why South Africa has one of the highest general troop ratios world-wide, which is expensive and ineffective. It also has a significant impact on the morale of soldiers.”

According to Transparency International, defence procurement transparency and accountability is severely limited by secret budgets, such as the Special Defence Account. “Evidence indicates that this account is being used for a significant amount of non-secret procurement in order to avoid legislative provisions, reporting, and oversight. This is especially problematic as defence procurement has been marred by allegations of opportunistic purchases.”

Transparency International highlighted several areas of concern regarding defence corruption risks. For instance, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, set up to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP), commonly referred to as the Arms Deal, was initially viewed as a positive move. “But the Commission has since been subject to allegations that it is biased and has undergone high-profile resignations of its staff members and participants – supported by 40 civil society organisations. The Commission is expected to report in December 2015. How independent the Commission’s findings prove to be and how conclusions are handled by President Jacob Zuma, himself implicated in the procurement scandal, will be an indicator of the strength of South Africa’s approach to anti-corruption,” Transparency International said.