Two-thirds of countries have a high risk of corruption due to insufficient controls over the defense sector, finds a new report. Apart from Syria, one EU country has particularly weak legislative oversight.
According to a new global study published by Transparency International, 85 percent of countries lack effective parliamentary scrutiny of their defense policy. Only 16 out of 82 countries surveyed have a low or very low risk of corruption due to strong legislative controls.
Parliamentary oversight is best in Germany, Australia, Norway and Britain. Only those four countries have a very low risk of corruption, says the watchdog group. Still, the record in those countries is not impeccable either. "Even in Germany, which scores quite well overall, there are serious questions about the effectiveness of legislative oversight of arms export controls," the study's author Mark Pyman, director of the defense and security program at Transparency International, told DW.
Most other EU countries (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia) and the US rank in the low or moderate risk (Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Spain) categories.
Greece has high corruption risk
Among European countries surveyed Greece is the negative outlier: It is the only EU member state with a high risk of corruption due to poor legislative checks on defense and security. That puts Greece in one category with Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Turkey or Russia. Greece is also the only EU country to have slipped in the rankings compared to the broader corruption index released earlier this year by Transparency International, while Norway, Britain, France, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia all improved their positions.
"I think it's a significant finding that should prompt quick and strong action by the Greek government," Pyman said
"There are a few key steps that Greece could take to improve its legislative oversight of defense. For example, the percentage of the defense budget that is dedicated to secret items is not known in Greece. The parliament may gain access to information about secret spending, but solely on a 'right to know' basis - and our researcher found that ministers may not feel obligated to present such documents if they contain confidential military matters. We also found significant weaknesses in auditing."
More positively, Pyman notes, there exists at least a "formal provision for legislative scrutiny of the defense sector in Greek law."
Meanwhile Syria, Iran, Saudi-Arabia and Egypt are among the worst-performing countries when it comes to parliamentary control of defense corruption. Of those countries with a critical risk for corruption, Syria stands out. It is the only country that received no positive mark in any of the seven key areas investigated by the researchers: Budget oversight and debate, budget transparency, external audit, policy oversight and debate, secret budgets oversight, intelligence services oversight and procurement oversight.
Legislators must get real authority
With two-thirds of the 82 countries surveyed showing a very high risk of corruption in the defense sector due to weak parliamentary checks, the study suggests it is high time for citizens and lawmakers across the world to tackle the issue.
"Parliamentarians are voted into office to represent their citizens - when they fail to exercise control of this important and sizable sector, it means that citizens' votes are wasted, their democratic voices are not heard, and tax money may not be used most effectively," says Pyman.
"We think that parliamentarians, particularly parliamentary defense committees, need to be empowered to exercise oversight of this sector. They need to demand the authority to scrutinize and debate defense matters, and access to documents like secret defense budgets and intelligence services' activities."