Parliaments fail to check defense corruption | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 17.09.2013
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Parliaments fail to check defense corruption

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.

The marble statues of ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, right, and Plato left stand in front of the Athens Academy, as the Greek flag flies on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Greece had to pay a higher rate to raise euro1.65 billion ($2.36 billion) on Tuesday as market pressures increased amid fears the government will have to default on its massive debt load. (AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris)

Greece is the only EU member state with a high corruption risk

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

epa03616754 Greek military reservists march in formation in front of the Greek Parliament during a demonstration of active and retired Greek military officers against their pension and salary cuts in Athens, Greece, 09 March 2013. EPA/ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS

Greek soldiers protesting pension cuts

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

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) shakes hands with a member of a military personnel during his visit to a military site in the town of Daraya, southwest of Damascus, on the 68th anniversary of army day, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on August 1, 2013. Assad said on Thursday he was confident of victory against rebels and made a symbolic visit to the town once overrun by insurgents but now mostly retaken by his army. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters (SYRIA - Tags: ANNIVERSARY CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Syria scored worst in key corruption risk indicators

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."

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