TI Index: Malaysia among countries facing high risk of corruption in defence, security sectors

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 – Nearly two-thirds of countries face a high to critical risk of corruption in their defence and security sectors, according to the 2020 Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), released on Tuesday by Transparency International (TI) Defence & Security programme based within Transparency International UK.

Countries that score poorly in the GDI have weak or non-existent safeguards against defence sector corruption and are more likely to experience conflict, instability and human rights abuses, a press statement from TI said on Tuesday.

The scores were given under six categories ranging from countries with very robust safeguards against corruption to critical risks to the sector.

Malaysia was placed in D or high risk of corruption with weak safeguards against corruption. This was based on data collected from the period August 2019 to June 2021.

In reviewing Malaysia’s corruption risk in its defence sector, the report said: Parliamentary oversight is nascent and weak, financial scrutiny is limited by excessive secrecy, while procurement is vulnerable to powerful interests both foreign and domestic that diminish institutional resilience to corruption. Finally, risks are critical in terms of military operations.

The results come as global military spending has increased to some US$2 trillion annually, fuelling the scale and opportunity for corruption, according to the Index.

The GDI assesses and scores 86 countries across five risk areas – financial, operational, personnel, political and procurement – before assigning an overall score.

Global highlights

  • 62 per cent of countries receive an overall score of 49/100 or lower, indicating a high to critical risk of defence sector corruption across all world regions.
  • New Zealand tops the Index with a score of 85/100.
  • Sudan, which just last month saw the military seize power in a violent coup, performs the worst, with an overall score of just 5/100.
  • The average score for G20 countries is 49/100.
  • Almost every country scores poorly in terms of its safeguards against corruption in military operations. The average score in this area is just 16/100 because most countries lack anti-corruption as a core pillar of their mission planning.
  • Among those that scored particularly poorly in this area are key countries contributing to or leading major international interventions such as the United States (operations score of 18/100) and Bangladesh (0/100).
  • 49 per cent of global arms imports are sold to counties facing a high to critical risk of defence corruption.

Implications for military operations

Almost every country performs badly in the military operations risk area. The GDI assesses the strength of anti-corruption safeguards in military deployments, whether that be deploying troops for internal security purposes or sending them on a peacekeeping mission overseas.

Only New Zealand has a low risk of corruption in its military deployments (operations score of 71/100), while a handful of countries perform moderately well in this area, including the UK (operations score of 53) and Norway (50).

Eighty-one countries face a high to critical risk in their military operations. This poses serious questions for countries facing internal threats, where a lack of anti-corruption safeguards in operations means troops are far more likely to contribute to conflict than quell it.

The lack of corruption safeguards in military operations should also be alarming to governments involved in international interventions through regional and international organisations:

  • Bangladesh (operations score of 0/100) is the top contributor of uniformed troops to UN peacekeeping missions.
  • The US military (18) has been active in at least 85 countries over the last three years, engaging in combat in eight countries.

Corruption in the arms trade

  • The GDI shows that 86 per cent of global arms exports between 2016-2020 originate from countries at a moderate to very high risk of corruption in their defence sectors.
  • Meanwhile, 49 per cent of global arms imports are to counties facing a high to critical risk of defence corruption.
  • These countries do not allow lawmakers, auditors or civil society to scrutinise arms deals, nor do they provide meaningful data on how they choose which companies to buy from or whether any third parties are involved.
  • This lack of transparency leaves the door wide open to bribery, public money being wasted and weapons finding their way into the hands of criminal gangs or insurgent groups.
  • Given the devastating impact on human life and security that corruption continues to have through the licit and illicit global arms trade, it is vital that both exporting and importing governments have strong anti-corruption measures and transparency.

Natalie Hogg, Director of Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme, said:

“These results show that most defence and security sectors around the world lack essential safeguards against corruption. Defence sector corruption undermines defence forces, weakening their ability to provide security to citizens, secure national borders and bring about peace. In the worst cases defence sector corruption has the potential to exacerbate conflict rather than to respond to it effectively.

“The lack of safeguards against corruption in military operations by many countries most actively involved in international interventions is particularly worrying. Time and time again international forces have failed to take the corrosive impact of defence and security corruption seriously despite the clear threat it poses to peace and stability. Getting this right is vital to averting future failed interventions and the devastating human cost that comes with them.

“We urge all governments featured in this Index to act on these findings. They must strengthen their safeguards against corruption and remove the veil of secrecy that so often prevents meaningful oversight of the defence sector. It’s critical that they embed anti-corruption at the core of all military operations to stop corruption and its devastating impact on civilians around the world.”

The GDI is the only global assessment of the governance of and corruption risks in defence sectors. It was previously known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI). The Index underwent a major update for the 2020 version, including changes to the methodology and scoring underpinning the project. This means overall country scores from this 2020 version cannot be accurately compared with country scores from previous iterations of the Index.

The GDI is produced by Transparency International’s Defence & Security Programme, based within Transparency International UK.