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There is no blueprint for implementing a sustainable oversight mechanism over a defence sector. Very often, the first steps taken towards oversight of the defence sector remain symbolic due to the legacy of decades of authoritarianism, the lack of parliamentary tradition, or even simply the overwhelming presence of the security apparatus in state affairs. Ensuring oversight is often closely linked to larger questions of capacity for the state and the parliament, especially regarding budgetary aspects.
However, one of the best ways to develop a sustainable culture of legislative scrutiny is to go beyond the newly created legal frameworks in a context of reforms, and to aim at empowering the parliamentarians themselves.
Usually, a good first step is the formation of Security and Defence committees. In several countries, those committees have gradually been asserting themselves by building cumulative knowledge on military affairs, by putting themselves in the position of summoning high-ranking civilian and military staff in the context of public hearings, or more simply by scrutinizing defence spending. If it is too early in the process, the speakers of the Parliament can also simply decide to launch a discussion on the already existing legal framework regarding the defence sector. In several West African countries, for instance, the initial laws or decrees on defence sector were passed in the 1950-1960s after their independence and sometimes have only been slightly reviewed since. They are usually grounded on the protection of state administration and do not correspond to an actual threat assessment, or they provide the legal basis for a broad immunity and uncheckable budgets. The need for an update can therefore be used as a pretext to discuss their relevance nowadays in Parliament.
To sum up, I can think of two elements:
- Providing room for parliamentarians to use newly designed legislative instruments is not an end in itself, but rather a first step.
- Avoiding a “collision course” with the staff from the defence sector is often a key condition for success. This is done by allowing the parliamentarians to gradually ask for more accountability measures, and also by resorting to military expertise in the framework of defence committees and therefore creating a culture of cooperation. The exchange of information and the public hearings will in the long run lead to parliamentarians building their own expertise. This means that at this stage of the reform, maintaining proper working relations between military personnel and parliamentarians is crucial to deliver outputs through this iterative process.
Regarding the particular issue of corruption, here are some strategic questions to be considered:
- Is the parliament in a position to design a civilian oversight mechanism over the defence sector?
- Is it involved in the definition of the national defence policy, or at least associated to the formulation of its concepts?
- Does it somehow review the strategic planning, size, financial and human resources of the security apparatus?
- Does it have a say on procurement and weaponry?
- But most importantly, are the parliamentarians in a position to build their own knowledge on areas that were previously denied to them in post authoritarian democracies?”
Dear Thammy and ISSAT CoP Bloggers,
What a challenge! To identify the strategic issues around corruption? And what a great first response which highlights the need to understand the local context and to link defence transformation and SSR to the wider political reform process.
I am mindful that corruption is essentially about the abuse of a position of trust for dishonest gain. According to the NATO Compendium of Best Practices (Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence) progress can be made along 3 pathways: building integrity; increasing transparency; and improving accountability. The level of traction in each pathway and the willingness of local actors to tackle the problem, should determine the balance of effort between the pathways. In my view the Trust/Integrity component is perhaps the most important. Trust makes things happen. Nothing works faster than the speed of trust. A lack of trust stems from toxic leadership which in turn leads to dysfunctional organisational behaviour, suspicion, negativity, procrastination, stonewalling, and a downward spiral of inefficiency and ultimately ineffectiveness and internal conflict. Let me share a couple of experiences.
The crucial importance of leadership was well illustrated during the early stages, post 1994, of the defence transformation programme in South Africa where I had the opportunity to work as an adviser to the Minister of Defence for 3 years. In the early 1990s President Mandela and his deputy, F W de Klerk, worked in partnership to provide the essential political leadership to the country. Importantly, Mandela agreed to retain the strong, highly principled General Georg Meiring to help steer the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) through the early stages of transformation and military integration. The Parliamentary Defence Committee with a forward-looking Defence White Paper and clear Transformation Strategy also paved the way for the successful democratic transition. But it was national leadership - right at the top of the Country – that created the environment that was conducive to change based on integrity, transparency and accountability. The political/military Leadership Team set the standards based on international good practices. Over 20 years on the transformation process continues and has become a change model for other state sectors in South Africa and a case study for conflict countries emerging from conflict across the World.
More recently, in Burma/Myanmar, I spent a year working with the Civilian Government, the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and numerous armed groups. Compared to South Africa here is a country locked up by its history, and unable to make the break from an autocratic, secretive military regime through a democratic transition into a more transparent and accountable way of doing business. Sadly, for the long suffering people of Burma the political process remains dysfunctional and corrupted; there is still an unaccountable Military Government in place exercising a large measure of control over a fledgling Civilian Government. There is no effective civil oversight, nor an effective Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee. The Military retain an effective veto over all parliamentary business and head up the key ministries. All key national decisions across all State sectors are still taken by the Tatmadaw, including Defence, Border Policy and Home Affairs. International Actors have sought to take a carrot and stick approach to encourage real political progress, transparency and accountability. So far, the Tatmadaw have held the reins of power despite international pressure, sanctions and the recent withdrawal of military advice and training following the Rohingya crisis. They have held the door to their institutions firmly closed to the outside world. The current Military Leadership is not receptive to adopting any of the widely accepted international standards relating to governance and oversight. The Key Question is Why? Why has the Tatmadaw chosen to remain secretive, with such a strong aversion to the democratic transformation of the state, including their institutions? The answer from the Tatmadaw Leadership is simple – it’s a matter of national security, territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the nation. Many would argue that the true answer is more to do with dishonest gains by those in leadership roles and positions of trust, including across the private sector.
So what should be done? In contexts such as Burma/Myanmar I would advocate:
1. That the International Community continue to adopt the Carrot and Stick Approach, assisting and supporting democratic transformation where possible. Make funding and technical assistance conditional on good international practice. But, at the same time, expose corrupt practices and leaders in the starkest terms. If necessary, name and shame.
2. Accept that the current generation of leaders are lost to the Country; they have failed their own people. They are addicted and slaves to corrupt practices and beyond the reach of any transformation incentives. They are the main problem, and are unlikely to make any contribution to a solution. Few corrupt leaders ever see a bright shining light and take the road to Damascus. Therefore, it would be wise to refocus international efforts onto the next generation of military leaders; those that want to join the Global Community and contribute to national peace building within their own country, regional stability and wider international peace and security. The International Community should identify the next generation of key leaders; then seek to educate, train and support their personal development.
In the final analysis it is Leaders that take decisions; not organisations or systems. It is people who are corrupt, not institutions. And it is toxic, corrupt leaders that inhibit the democratic transformation of countries and armed forces. Despite the diplomatic and human difficulties and sensitivities, that is the start point for tacking corruption.