KUWAIT // Governments in North Africa and the Middle East that have been rocked by Arab Spring revolts must listen to citizen demands for accountability by cracking down on corruption in the armed forces, an anti-graft watchdog said yesterday.
Defence and security bodies had a significant role to play in the regional upheaval and should use the momentum of the changes to reform from within, said Transparency International (TI).
Its Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index 2013 found that the risk of military corruption was "high" to "critical" for all 19 governments it had assessed in Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
"As the military is a dominant feature of many Mena nations and has a significant stake in political leadership, the issue of corruption in defence is ever more pressing," it said in a regional version of an anti-corruption index focused on armed forces.
TI rated the 19 governments on a global scale of A to F, with A being very low risk and F a critical risk.
Israel, Kuwait and Lebanon were the highest-rated Mena countries, with their graft risk level rated as D+, or "high", on the global scale.
Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen came bottom of the list, with a "critical" corruption risk rating of F.
In these F-rated countries, "citizens perceive defence institutions as corrupt or indifferent to corruption and consider them to lack the political will to counter it", according to TI.
It said organised crime had penetrated the military and security services in some of the countries in this group, that bribery payments were rampant and procurement of military equipment was an opaque process.
Other countries, including regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran, scored a middling grade, meaning that they had a "high" to "very high" risk of military graft.
TI found that in all states but Kuwait there was no legislative committee to scrutinise the defence budget or, if such a panel existed, it received no detailed information.
No country in the region had strong or even moderate parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, the report said.
In more than 60 per cent of nations, the defence budget was not available at all, or it was difficult to obtain a breakdown.
The report included a detailed action plan for governments to tackle military corruption and said they should heed popular calls for reform. "Demands for accountable governments that protect and serve their citizens, rather than themselves, have arisen throughout the region," it said.
Resource-rich countries in the region were more at risk of military corruption than their poorer counterparts.
"Perhaps such wealth maintains and develops patronage networks and elites who, in turn, limit the openness and accountability of defence and security establishments," it said.
The report was carried out by independent assessors who answered 77 questions for each country in the risk areas of politics, finance, personnel, operations and procurement. Governments were given the chance to comment on the findings.