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Bangladesh needs to upgrade its defence integrity structure

The Berlin-based Transparency International released its "Government Defence Integrity (GDI) Index 2020" on November 16, 2021. With an overall score of 25 on a scale of 100, which is well below the index average of 39, Bangladesh has been ranked in the second lowest category of countries having "very weak institutional resilience to corruption." The index shows that there are a large number of risk areas of varying degrees in the defence sector of Bangladesh, which demand high levels of strategic and policy priority aimed at creating a robust and upgraded integrity structure and ensuring its rigorous practice. Time is ripe for Bangladesh to start the process of developing a comprehensive defence integrity strategy through a participatory and inclusive process.


The GDI is produced on the basis of a framework of good practices of integrity that promotes accountable, transparent and responsible conduct in the defence and security sector, and prevents the waste of public resources through corruption and other forms of abuse of power. It uses more than 70 indicators on prevalence, effectiveness and enforcement of institutional control across five broad categories of risks: political, financial, personnel, operational, and procurement. Countries are ranked into six categories as per the score they receive. Countries that score 83-100 are grouped in grade A, having very robust institutional resilience to corruption; those who score 67-82 are in grade B, having robust institutional resilience; those who score 50-66 are placed in grade C, having modest institutional resilience; 33-49 in grade D, having weak institutional resilience; 17-32 in grade E, having very weak institutional resilience; and a score of 0-16 places one in grade F, having limited or no institutional resilience to corruption.


The GDI assesses the legal and policy framework on the one hand, and the state of implementation on the other, so as to assist the relevant authorities to identify the gaps as well as indicate scope of improvement. The index shows deficits in defence sector integrity to be a global problem. As many as 62 percent of the assessed countries are at high risk of corruption in defence and security. Almost every country scores poorly in terms of safeguards against corruption in military operations. The G20 countries, with an average score of only 49, are far from being able to ensure the desired standard of good practices to ensure integrity and anti-corruption in defence and security.


Of the 86 countries included in the index, only New Zealand has been ranked in grade A (very robust institutional resilience). Only seven countries—Belgium, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Taiwan, and the UK—have been placed in grade B for having robust institutional resilience. Twenty-five, including several countries considered to be otherwise better governed—like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, India, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—have been ranked in grade C (modest institutional resilience against corruption). The remaining 53 countries are in one of the lowest three categories, having weak, very weak, and limited or no institutional resilience. The grade F countries include Sudan (5), Egypt (6), Algeria and Myanmar (8), and Iraq (9).


Bangladesh's overall grading of E (very weak institutional resilience) aside, our highest grading in terms of specific categories of indicators is C—i.e. modest institutional resilience in the category of personnel risks—while in terms of operational risks, we have been assessed to have the lowest grade of F—i.e. limited or no institutional resilience. In the remaining three categories, we achieved similar grading as the overall assessment.


Looking closely into the sub-categories of indicators, Bangladesh has achieved the best grade of A in defence budget transparency and detail, defined narrowly in terms of comprehensiveness of budget information and timeliness of the same being available to the parliament. On the other hand, in terms of more important aspects of budget scrutiny, the score is in the lowest grade. Dimensions that may be considered as silver lining include disciplinary measures for personnel (A), payment system (A), and chain of command and payment (A).


The source of major concern is in the political risks category, under which Bangladesh's performance in sub-categories, like legislative scrutiny, defence committee, defence policy debate, CSO engagement, anti-corruption policy, organised crime links, organised crime policing, and intelligence services oversight have been placed in the lowest grade F—limited or no institutional resilience. Similarly, the lowest grade under the financial risk category is attributed to secret spending, legislative access to information, secret programme auditing, and access to information.


In the personnel risk category, scores under the sub-categories like the numbers of personnel, military code of conduct, and corruption prosecutions have also been graded the lowest—limited or no institutional resilience (F). The same grading has been received under defence procurement as per sub-categories like procurement legislation, compliance standards, open competition vs single sourcing, and tender board controls. Sub-indicators like internal audit, military-owned business scrutiny, disclosure of actual purchases, and scope for anti-collusion controls have been identified to be in grade E or very weak institutional resilience.


While the above findings of GDI do not necessarily imply existing lack of integrity or the state of prevalence of corruption as such, they do imply the depth and width of prevailing risks, and indicate the scope for work needed to be undertaken to move to the higher levels of integrity and anti-corruption. The Transparency International does not stop at making this assessment and merely launching the index; it offers its expertise to support reform initiatives, including drafting of integrity action plan, conducting training, and capacity-building of stakeholders to upgrade the level of integrity.


The key takeaway here is that Bangladesh needs to attach top priority to revamp its defence integrity structure and practices as early as possible. To begin with, a comprehensive defence integrity strategy should be developed in line with the national integrity strategy adopted by the Bangladesh government in 2010. The drafting process of the defence integrity strategy should be participatory and inclusive—not only to ensure technical and professional excellence, but also to enhance the level of public ownership. Various stakeholders, especially defence and security experts, politicians and political analysts, civil society and the media, should be involved in the process of drafting the country's defence integrity strategy.


On the other hand, it should be recognised in earnest that openness and disclosure, external oversight (especially political and legislative), adoption and rigorous practice of anti-corruption policy as well as creating space for public debate are the key to upgrading the level of integrity of the defence sector and enhancing public trust.


Dr Iftekharuzzaman is executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

The Daily Star,

November 17, 2021