Report: Mideast Susceptible to Defense-related Corruption

With excessive secrecy rampant, risk of political corruption high also where authoritarian regimes have been toppled, international monitoring group says.

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An international monitoring group issued a warning on Wednesday that excessive secrecy in Mideast security agencies leaves countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia open to corruption even after the overthrow of authoritarian regimes.

Continued secrecy and lack of civilian oversight in defense ministries and armed forces in the Middle East and North Africa expose them to corrupt practices, the Britain-based Transparency International said in a report on the Mideast and North Africa region released in Beirut.

Of the 19 countries surveyed, only a few disclose their defense budgets, the group said. None of the countries makes public the size of its military or the troops' salaries.

In Syria, for example, the group notes that defense policy was under tight control of the ruling Assad family even before the civil war there. And countries in transition, such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, lack any accountability, legislative oversight and credible "whistleblowing" systems through which concerned officers or defense officials can report suspected corruption.

It's a clear indication that replacing authoritarian leaders with elected ones is not enough to eradicate corruption, Mark Pyman, the director of the Transparency's Defense and Security Program, said in an interview to the Associated Press. "Corruptive structures have been allowed to develop and mature within defense institutions and armed forces over 20 or 30 years, and a regime change will not make them go away," Pyman told the AP. "The new administrations need to work actively to ensure that those elements of state become properly accountable in defense and security issues.

"There are no signs that Egypt's elected leaders are working to open defense institutions to public oversight, Pyman said, and secrecy and lack of accountability prevail in the aftermath of the political turmoil that has been engulfing the country since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising two years ago.

In Egypt and in other countries that have experienced decades of authoritarian rule, including Libya, Yemen, Algeria and Syria, the military owns a large portion of commercial economic outlets. Little or nothing is known about their profits.

The absence of independent legislatures in these countries contributes to high political corruption risk, the group said, adding that it has evidence that suggests organized crime has penetrated the defense sectors in at least some of the countries.

Countries that are ranked slightly higher by the watchdog are Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Even so, their risk of corruption is still significant given that they don't publicly disclose the percentage of the national budget that is spent on secret items. All these countries show limited activity to counter corruption and enforce existing controls in the political part of the defense sector, the report said, concluding that the risk of improper purchases taking place in these nations remains high.

A riot police officer faces off with protesters during a demonstration in Tunis. February 6, 2013.Credit: Reuters