High corruption risk in the South African defence environment


South Africa faces a high risk of corruption when it comes to defence, according to the latest Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI) released today by Transparency International (TI), with the greatest risk of corruption among South African troop deployments.

In its latest report, TI noted that South Africa, a significant troop contributor to UN missions with 6 000 personnel deployed on internal and external missions, was at particular risk of corruption on operations. “But there are concerns across all risk areas. Political considerations were found to play a strong role in appointments and promotions, and have resulted in an absurdly high ratio of general’s per soldier, undermining the professionalism of the military and destroying morale.”

TI gave South Africa a score of D in its assessment, noting the risks of political corruption is moderate; financial is high; personnel is moderate; operations is very high and procurement is high.

Transparency stated that in spite of an extensive anti-corruption framework in South Africa, there is low public trust. “The framework includes anti-corruption legislation, a defence corruption and fraud prevention plan, and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (also known as the Hawks).The effectiveness of those systems is questionable and public trust in defence institutions is low. Allegedly, corrupt activities are not addressed appropriately, including in well-known scandals. The Hawks are seen to be affected by executive influence.”

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.”

As offset programmes are a substantial part of the South African defence trade worldwide, the use of arms trade offsets to bribe public officials has been a major allegation in defence procurement in recent years. “There is very little detail given on past or current offset programmes. Furthermore, there is no evidence that offset contracts are subject to competition regulations or due diligence requirements,” according to TI.

The organisation noted that in 2014, the Auditor General (AG) found irregularities in expenditure to the tune of R1 billion. However, “there were no repercussions for the misappropriation of funds nor did the Defence Minister meet once with the Auditor General to discuss the findings and how they would be followed up.”

The Protection of State Information Bill (Secrecy Bill), which is waiting for Presidential sign-off, will, according to TI, only make access to information harder, while significantly reducing protection for whistle-blowers. Transparency International called on South Africa to clarify provisions regarding the use of the SDA, to ensure mandatory provisions are in place for oversight of all secret expenditure, and to formally review the Secrecy Bill.

In its report, TI stated that over half of G20 countries lack adequate checks and balances over their military forces, posing a threat to international stability. 8 of the G20 states assessed in the index receive either D or E grade, representing either a “high” or “very high” risk of defence corruption. South Africa was placed in the bottom third of the G20, in band D.

Katherine Dixon, Programme Director Transparency International Defence and Security, said that, “The actions of the G20 have a disproportionate impact on global security. Together they are responsible for the vast majority of global defence spending, the generation and trade of much of the world’s most devastating weaponry, while their role in international interventions has a direct impact on the lives of millions of people across the globe.”
“The G20 accounts for 82% of global defence spending, but much of this spending remains highly secretive. Only in seven countries is there any meaningful oversight over the defence budget at all. But while G20 defence spending has been increasing rapidly – by 55.7% per cent in the ten years between 2004 and 2014 – there is little common understanding about how this power should be governed. And global military expenditure is rising fastest in exactly those places where governance appears weakest – the BRICs top the table for growth: Chinese military spending has increased by 441% in the last decade, Brazil by 225%, Russia by 303% and India by 147%.”

Only the UK scored top marks overall, thanks to strong, independent oversight mechanisms. France was ranked lowest in the G7, with risks to operations assessed as particularly high, despite the country deploying over 10,000 troops on international peacekeeping and stabilisation missions.

The US was awarded a B. Although systems were assessed to be relatively strong, the report judged that the US Department of Defence’s failure to complete a full audit of its financial records and weaknesses in Congressional oversight created corruption risks.