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Defence Corruption risks in Middle East and North Africa critically high

Transparency International warns of ongoing corruption risks contributing to instability

All states in the Middle East and North Africa are at high risk of corruption posing a continuing threat to security and stability in the region according to a new Government Defence Index from Transparency International.

Sixteen of the seventeen states assessed in the index receive either E or F grades, representing either a “very high” or “critical” risk of defence corruption.  Only Tunisia performs better, although is still classed as “high risk”.

Katherine Dixon, Programme Director Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“This is one of the most unstable and conflict riven regions in the world. Over a quarter of the world’s most secretive defence spending is in the Middle East. Corruption puts international security at risk, as money and weapons can be diverted to fuel conflict.”

“It’s notable that the only country to have made some improvement, albeit small, is Tunisia where the hopes of the Arab Spring have not been completely extinguished.

“Without more transparency and accountability corruption risks in the region will continue unchecked. There is a strong case for exporting countries to have increased conditions on arms sales where there are insufficient safeguards against corruption.”

The region has some of the most rapidly growing defence budgets in the world, with a spend of $135bn, and where up to a third of all government spending can be on defence.

There is well-documented evidence of weapons from a wide range of countries reaching terrorist groups such as ISIS, Houthi and ISIL.

Those at critical risk are Kuwait, Morocco, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Qatar, Algeria, and Yemen as there is virtually no accountability or transparency of defence and security establishments. Across the region only Jordan and Tunisia publish information on defence and security budgets, though with insufficient detail for any meaningful scrutiny.

However, all countries suffer from lack of oversight, excessive secrecy, and widespread nepotism with networks based on family and business ties in the procurement of defence contracts.

High-ranking Princes in Saudi Arabia preside over powerful defence agencies and use those assets to distribute patronage to their client base. In Iraq individuals can buy military positions with a Divisional Commander’s job reportedly being sold for $2m. In Yemen and Oman all senior positions within the intelligence services are filled on the basis of political patronage and family ties.

The lack of accountability has undermined the development of strategic defence procurement policies further threatening security in the region. Despite the US alone providing $24bn for training and weapons to Iraq, an Iraqi Army General stated that the inability to halt the advance of Islamic state was because it lacked advanced airpower and weapons.

Many improper sales and transfers have happened well away from evidently fragile environments, under a thin veil of legitimacy. Neither Russia nor Iran have disclosed any of the financial details regarding the S-300 missile defence system deal signed in August this year, estimated to be worth $800 million. In 2013 Saudi Arabia purchased a large supply of weapons from Croatia on behalf of the anti-government rebels in Syria, and in 2014 financed the purchase of $2 billion in Russian arms on behalf of Egypt’s military-backed government.



Risk banding


D         High risk


E          Very high risk







Saudi Arabia



F          Critical risk























Dominic Kavakeb
Communications Manager
E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
T: + 44 (0)20 3096 7695
M: +44 (0)79 6456 0340 (out of hours enquiries)

Notes to editors:

The Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI) assesses the existence and effectiveness of institutional and informal controls to manage the risk of corruption in defence and security institutions and of their enforcement. Transparency International’s team of experts draws together evidence from a wide variety of sources and interviewees across 77 indicators to provide the government with a detailed assessment of the integrity of their defence institutions.

The 2015 Middle East and North Africa report publishes the country risk rankings derived from this data and examines the trends across the region.

Forthcoming reports based on the 2015 index will be released on Africa, Asia-Pacific, NATO, the G20, and fragile states.

Transparency International UK finds 33% of defence companies improved the transparency and quality of their anti-corruption programmes, but two-thirds don’t make the grade

Anti-corruption group calls on governments to require that contractors have ethics and anti-corruption programmes in place before bidding for defence work, to bring greater accountability

London, 27 April 2015 | New research by Transparency International UK today showed that 33% of companies studied in their Defence Companies Anti-Corruption Index 2015 have improved their ethics and anti-corruption programmes since 2012, but the industry as a whole still has a long way to go.

The Defence Companies Anti-Corruption Index 2015 measures the transparency and quality of ethics and anti-corruption programmes of 163 defence companies from 47 countries. Each company is ranked from band A (highest) to F (lowest) using publicly available information. Forty-two companies improved by one or more bands since 2012. A further third also showed some improvement.

“Corruption in defence affects us all. It is not just about commissions on sales—corruption can also directly threaten the lives of citizens and soldiers,” said Mark Pyman, Director of the Transparency International UK Defence and Security Programme. “Companies that have improved are taking the lead in bringing transparency to this often-secretive sector.”

Companies from Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US improved by one band or more.

Nearly a quarter of companies show no evidence of anti-corruption programmes at all

Katie Fish, author of the report, said that “there’s still a long way to go. Two-thirds of the defence contractors in this study, which includes 36 more companies than the 2012 analysis, show little evidence of having ethics and anti-corruption programmes in place. This includes companies from most of the major arms producing countries”.

Based on public information,

  • Only eight companies have evidence of whistleblowing mechanisms that encourage reporting
  • Just 13 companies conduct regular due diligence on agents
  • Only three companies have evidence that they have detailed procedures to avoid corruption in offset contracts (also known as counter-trade), a high-risk area.

Governments should require anti-corruption programmes from bidding companies

Transparency International UK called for procurement chiefs in importing governments worldwide to demand robust anti-corruption standards of defence companies. “If government contracts are contingent on companies having an appropriate ethics and anti-corruption programme in place, it will create a step change towards greater accountability in the defence industry, and further the positive work being done by many defence companies today,” said Pyman.

Transparency International UK also called on governments to require that bidding companies publish their detailed offset obligations and performance assessments.

Investors too are part of the solution

“Corruption can mean major reputational and financial damage,” said Fish. “Investors should use this report to ask: do the companies we invest in have high-quality anti-corruption programmes in place?”


Press contact: Leah Wawro, + 44 (0)20 7922 7973 (office) +44 (0)78 9421 9638 (mobile), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Notes for editors

163 defence companies from 47 countries were assessed using publicly available information relating to their ethics and anti-corruption programmes. TI-UK used a questionnaire of 41 indicators. Based on their assessment companies were placed in one of six bands, A to F. TI-UK also reviews internal company information. 63 companies provided internal information in 2015. TI-UK reviewed and discussed the internal documents provided with companies.

About the TI Defence & Security Programme (TI-DSP): TI-DSP works to build integrity and reduce corruption in defence and security establishments worldwide by supporting anti-corruption reforms in defence establishments and companies, and raising integrity in arms transfers. The programme is led by Transparency International UK (TI-UK) on behalf of the TI movement. For more information visit www.ti-

In the anti-corruption fight, quick wins rarely come around. It can take years to help people understand how corruption can damage their business and their country. That’s why the story of Tatra Trucks came as a pleasant surprise.

Tatra Trucks is a Czech company that produces heavy vehicles for civilian and military purposes. As a big military supplier, we included it in our 2015 Defence Companies Anti-Corruption Index (CI), which assesses the ethics and anti-corruption programmes of the world’s major defence companies.

As part of the Index it became clear that Tatra Trucks failed to provide any publicly available evidence of an ethics and anti-corruption programme. As a result, the company scored one of the lowest scores of all 163 companies in the Index.

Perhaps this was the wake-up call Tatra Trucks had needed, because their reaction was immediate. Tatra Trucks sent representatives to Transparency International Czech Republics’ press conference, in order to explain their position and finished by pledging to adopt an anti-corruption programme within six months.

The press conference itself was a great success. Media coverage was broad, demonstrating that the media are sensitive to the practices of the defence industry. In an interview following the press conference, the Czech Minister of Defence told Czech Radio broadcasting that the Ministry will – within current legal parameters – exert pressure on the defence industry for high anti-corruption standards. Other companies that were not involved in the CI - such as LOM Praha, which focuses on the maintenance and modernisation of aircraft and helicopters-, came forward to inform TI Czech Republic of their ethics and anti-corruption programmes. These events were also the beginning of a series of constructive meetings and exchanges with Tatra Trucks. It was agreed that the launch of the CI would be a starting point for a common effort to improve the sector.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the historical behaviour of the Czech defence industry, Tatra Trucks has made efforts to fulfil its promise. Two months later, an anti-corruption programme has been drafted in consultation with TI Czech Republic. The programme is now ready to be adopted by the company’s management.

Over the last few months the company has been working with TI Czech Republic to increase the quality and transparency of their programme and assisted with efforts to put pressure on the wider national defence industry to improve.

TI Czech Republic hopes this is not the end of the success story and intends to use the Tatra Trucks example to further develop dialogue with other major players in the Czech defence industry. The Tatra Trucks programme commits to the promotion of good practice in the Defence and Security Industry Association of the Czech Republic, and the wider Czech business environment. TI Czech Republic looks forward to working with Tatra Trucks and other open-minded defence companies to improve the integrity of the defence industry of the Czech Republic.

Photo: Flickr / United Nations Photo

Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) welcomes the publication of the Secretary-General’s report on The Future of UN Peace Operations,” and the recommendations in the Report of the High Level Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) and those of the Advisory Group on the Peacebuilding Architecture.

TI-DS commends the Secretary-General’s report for its focus on preventing conflict, improving accountability, and strengthening responses to misconduct. To support the effective implementation of these goals, TI-DS makes the following recommendations:

  1. Peace settlements: Measures to counter threats from corruption should be enshrined in peace settlements and the way in which the UN approaches them. Settlements that deliver effective, inclusive and accountable institutions are more likely to withstand crises and manage disputes peacefully. They will be most successful when the state institutions that result are open, transparent, and accountable to their people. The negotiations and analysis that precede a settlement should avoid focusing only on armed groups, and involve civil society and peaceful non-state actors.

  2. Conflict analysis and prevention: The Secretary-General’s report places a strong emphasis on conflict prevention, and strengthening the capacity of the UN system to identify early signs of potential conflict and enable proactive and effective responses. TI-DS recommends that UN peace operations should ensure their country analyses encompass the dynamics and drivers of corruption, advocate appropriate attention to it, and provide political support to those responsible for addressing corruption risk.

    There is a wealth of evidence pointing to a strong link between corruption and conflict. One empirical study found that once countries reach a certain level of corruption, there is a ‘tipping point’, at which a small increase in corruption can translate into a large increase in political terror, political instability, violent crime, violent demonstrations, organised crime, access to small arms and light weapons, homicide rates, and levels of perceived criminality. Some current situations clearly demonstrate how corruption has undermined security forces that should play a key role in stabilizing a conflict. TI-DS research on Afghanistan shows that pouring large quantities of financial and practical support into weak institutions can do more harm than good when there is a risk of diversion. As existing conflict analysis methodologies are developed, accountability and corruption should be taken into account as generators of conflict and instability. This issue should be considered by the new analysis and planning capacity to be established in the Secretary General’s office as well as others at headquarters and in the field.

  3. Accountability and ethical conduct: TI-DS welcomes the Secretary-General’s emphasis on increased accountability. Strong accountability mechanisms will not only protect the reputation of the UN, but also increase the effectiveness of its peace operations and ensure that they serve the best interests of the citizens they aim to protect.

    However, the need for accountability mechanisms goes beyond a focus on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and must also cover instances involving corruption, abuse of power, and organised crime. TI-DS therefore welcomes para78 of the Secretary-General’s implementation report regarding responsible stewardship of funds and resouces, and believes that in addition to strengthening mission management capabilities, the capacity of oversight mechanisms and institutions should also be bolstered.

  4. Protection of civilians: The Secretary-General’s focus on protection of civilians is positive. As his report identifies, support to local security and rule of law institutions can contribute to civilian protection. But security forces can also prey on and extort from civilians, so measures should be taken to ensure that such support to security institutions does not fuel predatory behaviour. Part of the response should be to strengthen oversight bodies of local security forces, so that the forces’ capability to protect citizens, and accountability mechanisms that ensure they do so, are developed in parallel.

  5. Training: better training of UN personnel is key to improving their understanding of transparency and integrity issues, maintaining good conduct and ensuring the protection of civilians. TI-DS fully supports the Secretary General’s efforts to strengthen training and establish a pilot train-the-trainer centre. Values of accountability and transparency should be included in the ‘new basics’ of UN training efforts and form an element of capability-building efforts among military contingents and others involved in operations, including civilians and police.

  6. Recommendations to the General Assembly & Security Council for Decisions in 2015-16

    1. Corruption should be recognised explicitly as a driver of conflict and instability.

    2. UN country analyses should encompass the dynamics and drivers of corruption, advocate appropriate attention to it, and provide political support to those providing technical advice in the area.

    3. The values of accountability and transparency should be included in ‘new basics’ of UN training efforts, and form an element of capability-building efforts among military contingents and others involved in peace operations, including civilians and police.

Photo: A member of 77th Brigade's Media Operations Group photographs soldiers. © Crown Copyright.

In January 2015, the British Army established 77th Brigade, an organisation designed to champion its non-lethal, non-military effects from cyber to civil affairs. In an innovative step, they have seconded one of their officers to Transparency International’s Defence and Security programme. So what is the army hoping to gain from having a man on the inside of the world’s leading anti-corruption outfit?

Much of today’s warfare takes place in fragile and failing states, where the rule of law and governance are broken, and where conventional tactics are a thing of the past. Achieving stability will require a comprehensive approach against an unconventional threat,, and the military must strive to earn and maintain the support of the population. The Taliban, ISIS and Boko Haram all recruit soldiers by drawing on deep public anger at the abuse of power for private gain by local officials. Corruption is a weapon in the hands of those who wish to see governments in conflict-affected states fail.

High levels of corruption also erode the capacity of defence and security institutions to tackle instability and insurgency. As British Army officer Sir Robert Thompson said, it is “futile to succeed in defeating the insurgency, especially by military means alone…if the result [is] a country which is not politically and economically viable.”1 When the Iraqi forces in Ramadi collapsed in the face of ISIS in May this year, the huge cost of investing in training and equipping militaries without tackling corruption and building integrity became clear. With an estimated 50,000 ghost soldiers on the payroll, soldiers who can bribe their way out of danger zones and a lucrative rewards system for superior officers who agree not to report soldiers as absent, the Iraqi army is ill equipped to stand against ISIS.

What does the army hope to get from a secondment to Transparency International?

Corruption is a direct threat to military operations, and yet countering corruption is an area of expertise notably absent from current UK military thinking. The key to successful military operations in the modern conflict environment must be interoperability: the ability to understand and operate in tandem with other organisations, specifically those that have essential skills. 77th Brigade aims to integrate the best talent from commerce, media, academia and public and social sectors to increase the network of understanding and support to non-military lines of operation. This involves tapping the Reserves and the civilian sector for talent not necessarily available within the military.

One of the major hopes of this placement scheme is to translate Transparency International’s work into something that the military not only understands but also believes in and will deliver. The anti-corruption tools that Transparency International is developing are essential instruments for the military to conduct operations with enduring success in the modern world.

What’s in it for Transparency International?

For an organisation which focusses on stopping corruption in defence and security establishments, military interventions, and the arms trade, it’s great to have the chance to integrate military experience directly into the team. The opportunity for alternative viewpoints and challenges to Transparency International’s assumptions will enhance the understanding in both organisations of corruption as a key driver of instability and the role of the military in turbulent times.

1 Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences in Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chatto & Widus, 1966), p. 51.

Photo: MINUSCA / Flickr.

This submission was originally presented to the Independent Review Panel on the UN Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Foreign Military Forces in the Central African Republic on 14 August 2015.

Recent allegations of sexual abuse by foreign military forces in CAR, and the investigative process that followed, have demonstrated that sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by peacekeeping troops, in which the actions of a small minority can undermine the credibility of a mission, is still an important challenge that the UN must continue to address. Current mechanisms for responding to allegations of malfeasance should and must be strengthened.

The abuses that took place in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2014 when MINUSCA was in the process of being set up, and those that have followed since, have shown that there are serious gaps in investigation and oversight. These must not go unresolved.

The problem is not an isolated one. There have been similar incidents involving UN troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo and Bosnia, and well-founded allegations of sexual misconduct by troops in Haiti, Burundi and Liberia. Such cases highlight the need for strengthened oversight and accountability to ensure that UN peace operations are conducted in a way that builds confidence and establishes peace and security for local populations.

A lack of oversight and weak accountability mechanisms allow corruption, sexual abuse, and other mission-threatening issues including organised crime and trafficking to thrive. Proper oversight and accountability is therefore vital to protecting the UN’s mission and credibility. The Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Group on Peace Operations recognises that corruption is both a cause and consequence of conflict, and that stronger controls and practical support are needed.

Transparency International welcomes the Secretary General’s appointment of a panel to investigate the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the CAR, and that its mandate includes a review of shortcomings in existing procedures covering serious crimes by UN and related personnel.

As part of its review of shortcomings in existing UN procedures, we recommend that the panel consider the following:

  • Strengthening oversight and ensuring investigations are fully independent. Allegations like those made by Anders Kompass should be immediately and thoroughly investigated by UN oversight bodies. Those oversight bodies must be entirely free from political influence in order to be effective, and they must conduct their investigations independently and impartially.
  • Introducing greater protection for whistleblowing and measures to incentivise whistleblowers to come forward. Individuals with the courage to bring allegations of corruption, sexual abuse, and other crimes to light must be strongly protected in law and practice, in accordance with Transparency International’s International Principles for Whistleblower Legislation. Individuals should be protected from all forms of retaliation, disadvantage or discrimination linked to or resulting from whistleblowing. Whistleblowing should be actively encouraged at all levels. The UN should strengthen mechanisms through which UN personnel, citizens, and contractors can report on malfeasance, and clearly identify how such allegations will be followed up in a transparent and robust way. The UN’s initial reaction to the Kompass case suggests a desire to suppress sensitive information rather than act on it.

Corruption and sexual exploitation and abuse thrive in environments where transparency and accountability are minimal and where systems that encourage those that have information to come forward are not well developed. Strengthening investigation and oversight, protecting whistleblowers and enhancing transparency will greatly enhance the effectiveness of UN peace operations and strengthen the support of the local population.

Emily Knowles, Policy Officer - Security Policy | 13 July 2015

Last month the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Group on Peace Operations published its report. This is a timely intervention, as it comes at a moment when the UN has recognised that changes in conflict and increasing demands for peace support are outpacing the ability of UN peace operations to respond. Emphasizing the need for conflict prevention and mediation; protection of civilians; more clarity on the use of force; and more sustained political engagement by the international community, the report acknowledges a fact that is gaining attention from leaders like Obama and Cameron: corruption is both a cause and consequence of conflict.

Successful peacemaking means brokering reconciliation, promoting inclusion and neutralising drivers of conflict– exactly the sort of process that corrupt elites and politicised security forces are likely to resist. Countering corruption is therefore an essential part of breaking the cycle of violence in a country so that an inclusive peace can flourish. This is the first time that a major UN document has explored the role of corruption in driving conflict so explicitly, and it is a welcome step.

The report recommends that UN peace operations ensure their country analyses encompass the dynamics and drivers of corruption, advocate appropriate attention to it, and provide political support to those providing technical advice in this area. The UN General Assembly will debate the implementation of the report’s recommendations in the autumn. We have the following suggestions for those in the UN charged with turning the ideas of the report into reality:

  • Include anti-corruption in the mandates of peace operations. Supporting governments and security forces that are accountable to the public should be at the heart of operations, and operating with clear guidance will strengthen missions’ capacity to respond to other challenges such as organized crime. Countering corruption should be explicitly included in mission planning and mandates to ensure the mission can properly address these issues once it deploys.
  • Strengthen practical support on corruption for those on the ground on peace operations. Improve the training, tools, and guidance for UN peacekeepers so that those on operations know how to respond to corruption on the ground while maintaining the mission’s own integrity. The High Level Group proposes “political support” to those on the ground; it’s up to the implementation report to identify what this will look like, but if corruption is really to be tackled, it’s key.
  • Increase transparency. The UN should take the lead on increasing openness. Doing so will increase popular support for operations within the host country and increase the chances of success. In line with this, strengthen UN internal audit and policing processes. It’s important for UN missions to do, and be seen to be doing, the right thing.

The High Level Group’s report is a helpful step forward in making the destabilising nature of corruption, state capture and partisan security sectors clear. In taking it forward the UN has a real opportunity to attack the key issues, including corruption, that underpin today’s conflicts. If it does not take advantage of that opportunity there is a risk that its mission will fail.

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