What is the impact of defense corruption? How civilian oversight bodies, both parliamentary and from other representatives of civil society, could and should be primary tools for the identification and mitigation of corruption risk in the sector? These were the key discussed at the panel of International Anti-Corruption Conference, ‘Civilian Oversight as the Corrective for Corruption in the Defence Sector: A dialogue between the UK, Nigeria and Ukraine’. The speakers were Vice Chairman of the UK Commons Defence Committee John Spellar, NAKO’s Secretary-General Olena Tregub, and researcher from Erasmus University Rotterdam John Sunday Ojo. The panel was organized by Transparency International Defence and Security and was moderated by TIDS Director Natalie Hogg and Salaudeen Hashim from Nigeria’s CISLAC.
Speaking about the authorities in different countries, Spellar said that for those within the system who want to focus on defence and security, the corrupt system is working against them if they don’t pay enough attention to oversight. He stressed that it’s absolutely crucial for the Parliament to be included in the oversight over defence and security as the Parliament is the primary source of power and also the authority responsible for the budget etc. Spellar explained that the ability of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee to ask correct questions and demand answers is the protection of parliamentary sovereignty. He assured that the level of equipment and medication that the servicemen get directly impacts the effectiveness of the troops and thus depends on the quality of the Oversight Committee’s job. Tregub agreed with Spellar that it is important that state institutions and not NGOs take the leading role in civilian oversight. However, she mentioned that in practice it also depends on how strong the state institutions and the civil society are in a particular country, and how much capacity they have. Tregub also shared NAKO’s experience in promoting transparency and accountability in Ukraine. She said that NAKO’s mode is evidence-based research which means that the organization does the research and then suggests the concrete policies. She gave an example of NAKO’s activity to increase transparency of defense procurement, from publishing reports on open and classified procurement to providing technical assistance in drafting the Law on Defence Procurement which was adopted in summer 2020. Although currently the implementation of the law has been put at a pause, NAKO continues to advance for the law to come fully in force.
Sharing some good practices, Tregub said that one of the most effective methods that NAKO relies upon is cooperation with international partners and assistance with shaping conditionality. Sunday Ojo spoke about Nigeria’s experience. He said that the corruption risks in the defence sector are high, and the civil society’s job is really difficult there. The key challenges that he mentioned are the uniqueness of the sector, lack of competition, and an overall secrecy which prevents the civil society actors from getting access to different documents. All the participants agreed that all the countries should strive for the optimal balance of secrecy and transparency and accountability.