Defence corruption risks threatening Asian stability

Transparency International | .

Several Asian powers are at high risk of corruption posing a threat to stability in the region according to a new Government Defence Index from Transparency International.

Six of the seventeen states assessed in the index receive either E or F grade, representing either a “very high” or “critical” risk of defence corruption. Malaysia scored a D indicating a high vulnerability to defence corruption.

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

“Asia is home to some of the most rapidly growing defence budgets in the world, but it’s not just the size of defence spending that matters. The question is, who is in charge of all this new power?”

“Secretive decision-making in defence creates suspicion and regional tensions.  In a highly populated region, with overlapping territorial claims and rising defence budgets, stability depends on establishing clear standards for the way military power is governed, based on accountability to citizens and basic transparency.”

“This is what being a responsible power in the 21st Century should mean.”

The region has some of the most rapidly growing defence budgets in the world, with the 17 countries studied in this report spending approximately $432.7 billion on military expenditure in 2014, or 24.5 % of global military spending.

But much of this spending remains highly secretive. Oversight of defence budgets, essential to holding military elites to account, is often minimal.

TI is calling on ASEAN Defence Ministers, which are meeting in Malaysia for the 3rd Annual Defence Ministerial Plus, to take the lead in setting new ASEAN standards for defence institutions.

Dixon added:

“Malaysia has firm foundations for building accountability and transparency in defence institutions. The armed forces are professional and transparent in some critical areas.

 But greater independent oversight over the defence budget is essential if the risk of public funding being wasted or stolen is to be reduced. And in light of the ongoing 1MDB case, there has never been a greater need for defence institutions to demonstrate their ethics and integrity.”

The report also highlighted the vital role of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in investigating corruption in defence.  But formal legislative scrutiny over defence policy was a key gap, as little detail about defence spending is submitted to parliament in the annual budget estimate.

Across the region, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, and Japan also topped the index with strong institutional controls over military spending and policy. South Korea, where the Government has taken a strong public stand against defence corruption, also scored ahead of the regional average.

In contrast, China accounts for around 30% of the world’s most secretive spending.  In theory, defence policy is supervised by the National People's Congress, but in practice the US congress receives more information about Chinese military capability and defence budget.

Singapore emerges as the ASEAN leader, with firm foundations in Philippines and Indonesia, which also scored D. But there were notable gaps in other ASEAN countries, where the behaviour of the military stands is stark contrast to the organisation’s professed values.  In Myanmar, the abuse of power by the military is contributing to the loss government legitimacy and fuelling civil unrest.

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