Transparency Int’l sees ‘high risk of corruption’ in Bangladesh

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) – Defence and security sectors of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are at "high risk of corruption", according to a Transparency International survey.

Bangladesh has been placed among countries whose defence and security sectors are at "high risk of corruption", says a Transparency International (TI) survey report.

Among 17 Asia-Pacific countries assessed in the survey, Bangladesh was in "D" band and has been grouped together with India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Six countries were at the bottom two bands “E and F”, exhibiting critical risk of corruption. The countries were China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. Only New Zealand was in “A” band. Singapore, Australia, Taiwan and Japan were grouped in the "B" risk band.

Bangladesh's highest corruption risk areas were finance, procurement and political while the highest scores and lowest risk area was personnel, said the global anti-corruption watchdog's Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, 2015 report released on Wednesday.

Expressing concern over Bangladesh's position, Transparency International-Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman said bringing parliamentary accountability to defence and security expenditure is now the call of the hour.

"Despite the absence of National Defence Policy, inadequacies in information relating to the defence purchase and the culture of secrecy is not good for democratic accountability," he said in a statement.

The Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index measured the levels of corruption risk in national defence establishments, and gave scores to each country in bands from A (the best) to F (the worst).

These bands were based on scores on an assessment consisting 77 questions. For each question a government was given scores from zero to four.

The percentage of overall marks determined which band the government was placed in. The countries were assessed in five risk areas: political risk, financial risk, personnel risk, operations risk, and procurement risk.

The report claimed that the Bangladesh military spending had increased by 202 per cent over the last decade while China military by 441 per cent, India by 147 per cent, South Korea by 106 per cent, Pakistan by 107 per cent, and Sri Lanka by 197 per cent.

At the institutional level, the military operates a range of businesses directly and indirectly through the Sena Kalyan Sangstha, a retired officials' welfare association, it added.

The report said while there were legislative provisions for parliamentary approval of defence budgets and oversight of policies and activities, those needed to be stronger in practice to be more effective.

"A specific parliamentary standing committee overseeing defence issues has been formed but there is little evidence of parliament's impact on budgets, procurement decisions, or overall defence policy," it said.

The TI recommended that parliament uses its prerogatives to the full, to further develop a comprehensive and robust process for defence oversight.

The report lauded Bangladesh government for completing a review of the anti-corruption index 2015 research, saying it showed "a willingness to open dialogue with an international NGO on defence corruption issues".

Praising the government's commitment to an anti-corruption agenda, it said the Anti-Corruption Commission was somewhat active in nationwide investigations and the government could further build on this anti-corruption strategy to address issues of parliamentary and independent external audit oversight of the defence sector.

On the region, the survey said in some rising Asian powers, there was a gulf between growing military spending and adequate checks and balances on military elites, posing a threat to regional stability.

The region has some of the most rapidly growing defence budgets in the world. The 17 countries spent approximately US$432.7 billion on the military in 2014, or 24.5 per cent of global military spending, it said.

"Oversight of defence budgets, essential to holding the sector to account, is often minimal. And the argument that openness can undermine national security is frequently exploited to avoid accountability to citizens.

"This is even more pronounced when it comes to “secret” budgets, expenditure relating to intelligence services and national security, where mechanisms for scrutiny are almost entirely non-existent," it said.

The report said, “In 65 per cent of the countries we studied, public trust in the military's ability and will to address corruption was very low."