People-centred reforms in Defence

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Why focus on people-centred reforms?


Corruption is not a natural topic in defence. Officers are not trained to recognise or address corruption, officials are unlikely to bring it up. In more corrupt ministries and militaries there is a very rational reason for this. Their view of corruption tended to be that “I know corruption is a crime; I know I am involved in it, as are my colleagues; I know it is a hard and difficult process to eradicate it; I know I am vulnerable to accusations of it.  Therefore, I will not talk about it and will not raise it in any meeting.”

Thus, one of the most effective ways to build a readiness to address the subject is to make the topic discussable.

You can do this in several various ways, for example;

By discussing the list of corruption types (see Corruption types and analysis above) or the TI analysis of your defence vulnerabilities with your leadership teams

By arranging a leadership special discussion day on the topic. See below for how to do this. Or you can ask an outsider (or TI) to facilitate it for you.

By asking an outsider, perhaps from TI defence programme, to come and speak on the topic to your leadership or to a relevant Defence Board meeting.

Organising a ‘Leadership day’ on corruption risks and reform. 

In the TI defence programme, once we understood the prevalence of this mental model about defence corruption, we experimented with different mechanisms for bringing it to the surface and developing a constructive solution to it. We evolved what we now call ‘leadership days,’ in which a large proportion of the defence ministry and military leadership take a whole day to discuss the nature of the corruption issues that they face and possible ways in which they can be tackled.  For example, in the figure opposite, thirty senior military and defence ministry officials from Botswana are ‘voting’ on which of the 29 defence corruption risks are most relevant for their country. Interestingly, the risk almost at the top was of corrupt control of the military and civilian intelligence functions; a risk that has been significant in Latin American countries and currently is common in many West African countries.

Such a day does carry political risk for the principal sponsor; this sometimes means that there will be two or three such leadership days involving deputies and delegates, before the real leadership feels confident enough to participate.  But by the same token, the very unusualness of the event offers the opportunity of a significant step forward in understanding.

The day would normally consist of five parts:

  1. The first would be a general discussion about corruption and corruption prevention.
  2. The second would be an explanation of the specific corruption risks in the country’s defence sector: sometimes based around the typology, sometimes based around on-the-spot identification of the risks.
  • The third would be the prioritization of those risks and the practicalities – political, logistical and financial – of implementing solutions.
  1. The fourth would be a review of the experience of two or three other countries in their defence anti-corruption journey.
  2. Finally, the fifth would be devoted to organisation, governance and the creation of a task force to co-ordinate the implementation of the anti-corruption plan.

It has been TI’s experience that these one-day events have had an impact in the 15 or so countries where they have facilitated them. In every case, those present have said that they have left with an entirely different understanding of what corruption is and much greater hope that their military may now be capable of doing something substantive against it.

Anti-corruption leadership council

Another way to build commitment in preventing corruption, and to overcome objections or resistance, is to establish a leadership group on the topic.

This could be a new leadership group, specially formed to bring together those leaders across defence who need to work together to establish corruption prevention as a routine part of the national defence organisations.

Or it could be added on to the scope of an existing organisation, such as the audit committee. Often this committee has a scope that has become limited over time, and such a role can invigorate it.

Another approach discussed in some MODs has been to make a council that is representative of all levels of the organisation, with a ‘diagonal slice’ of people from across all levels of the organisation.



Corruption reform is as much about changing mindsets and behaviour as it is about technical change or political willingness. Whatever you do by way of corruption reform in defence, making such behaviour change happen will require full time staff.

One good approach is to establish a full-time integrity unit within the MOD. Establishing full time positions shows commitment, and it the unit can then coordinate or implement plans of action proposed by the leadership. The mandate of such a group can vary, depending on need and circumstance. It can include:

  • Preparation of the leadership’s anti-corruption action plan
  • Coordination and monitoring of the action plan
  • Advise staff on best courses of action
  • Scrutiny of planned tenders for corruption risk
  • Provide input on policy and draft bills, assessing their impact on transparency and corruption risks
  • Scrutiny of possible conflicts of interest
  • Provide anti-corruption training to officers and officials
  • Annual corruption risk analysis
  • Liaison internally and externally
  • Encouraging transparency and openness in MOD operations and publications

Here is an example of one such unit, in the MOD of Poland. Established in 2007, it has bene in place for over ten years now.

Example: Poland MOD Integrity unit

Poland had a government-wide anti-corruption initiative in the period 2006-2010, and again thereafter: see, for example[ii]). The early initiative was particularly strong in the Ministry of National Defence, where the Defence Minister (initially Radoslav Sikorski) provided strong political direction for reform. They did a broad analysis, identified eight weak areas (see diagram opposite), set up a full-time task force that included civil society personnel, then focused on high-value procurement, conflicts of interest, and abuse by high ranking officials. Read more>

They then whittled the eight priority areas down to just a few priorities: high value procurement, high rank officers, and abuse of power.

On procurement, they proceeded to make a whole series of reforms, including more transparency, less single source procurement, better operational testing, more electronic auctions, etc – see diagram. This sounds straightforward, but was not, and did not happen easily. Suspicious orders kept being re-submitted to the full time anti-corruption methods task force.

The key to its success was the presence of the full time task force. It comprised only 4 staff, but they were committed, and clearly had the support of the Minister. The staff were largely brought in from outside the Ministry, and the team was headed by a man who had previously been a civil society activist working for TI Poland.

In 2011, the defence sector was again pinpointed as a major corruption risk due to the secrecy surrounding procurement decisions (which tend to be exempt from the requirements of the Law on Public Procurement). The most frequently encountered corruption risks had to do with tender specifications being written for a particular company and with single-sourcing: in 2011, 160 tenders were single-sources, 324 multi-sourced. The value of single-sourced tenders was PLN 200 million (approximately £36 million) higher than the value of multi-sourced contracts.

The 2014-2019 Government Anti-Corruption Strategy also points to defence (particularly procurement) as an continuing corruption risk area. The Plan identifies greater secrecy as a corruption risk, and mentions offsets and the potential for modification of contracts after signing as risk areas. It also states that there is an increasing tendency to limit access to information regarding tenders being conducted.

What was the effect of this unit?

At national level, Poland moved from being the most corrupt nation in the EU in 2005, to one in the middle (15thout of 28) by 2013.

For defence ministries, there are several policy lessons:

  • Putting in place a full-time implementation team is critical. Poland’s is only 4 people, and it was a good move to staff it largely with outsiders.
  • Making the implementation team a permanent feature of the Ministry
  • Staying below the political radar. The MOD initiative never had a high public profile. It started out with the very modest title of ‘The Anti-Corruption Procedures Bureau’ (Though it now has a rather grander title: Office of the Minister’s Plenipotentiary for Anti-Corruption Procedures).

Integrity units have also become a regular feature of corruption prevention efforts in other sectors. Seehere, for example, for integrity units in sport.

Conflict environments

An integrity unit can similarly be a way to build up capability and understanding of corruption prevention in a fractured military and defence ministry. One recent example was the ‘Shafafiyat’ task force in Afghanistan (see here and here, for example).


Being in the Military is one long training exercise. Training is tough, designed to enable soldiers to respond immediately with the ‘right’ reflexes. Conversely, if there is no training, the subject might as well not exist.

Officers are trained in ‘Integrity’ at officer cadet school. Such officer schools follow a somewhat similar curriculum the world over, often modelled on the original ones such as Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK. The integrity training is aimed at being a trusted leader – so that your soldiers will follow you unquestioningly into battle, rather than aimed at corruption. Nonetheless, the values and standards that it instils – honesty, trust, your-word-is-your bond, are the same as any civilian integrity course seeks to impart.

The training has a broader integrity purpose too, which is to instil a strong sense of pride in the military in the officer. You will recognise this in almost all militaries around the world. Even in highly corrupt countries where the military themselves are involved, you will find that officers are well aware of the clash between their values and their pride in being an officer, with the actions that they are required to take to survive within a corrupt environment. This tension is a powerful motivator of people to ‘do the right thing’, in as much as it is possible.

Training in corruption prevention in defence organisations has historically been minimal but has been increasing rapidly over the past 10 years. Besides the training activities of the Transparency International Defence Programme, other organisations have established training capabilities. These include NATO, militaries/Defence ministries in the UK, Norway, Colombia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Nigeria and elsewhere.

More information:

  • Transparency International Defence has a five-day course in corruption prevention. Read more>
  • NATO has the ‘Building Integrity’ course, open to NATO allies and NATO partners. Read more>
  • Ukraine has a training organisation called BTEC. Read more>
  • The UK Defence Academy has a course. Read more>
  • Norway has established a Centre for Integrity in Defence Studies which can provide corruption prevention training. Read more>

There is also training material for General officers, for NCOs, and for more specialist groups, such as Procurement Directorates.From time to time, Transparency International Defence also provides 2-3 months secondments to people who are planned to work full-time on corruption prevention. Several of these have used the opportunity to carry out an original piece of research on the corruption issues in their own MOD and military. The report shown opposite, for example, analyses 400 Ukrainian MOD audit reports and categorises the corruption cases that the secondee identified. The secondees then go back to their base country, usually as a teacher of anti-corruption in their national MOD.

Strengthening education by the Inspector General system or equivalent structure

All military forces have a disciplinary structure. In the US and US-related countries it tends to be the system of Inspectors General. These exist in both civil functions and the military (see here) and have become very well established in the US military. They also exist in a wide range of other countries (see here).

Such structures in the military are often not well resourced and/or not well regarded. They thus represent an existing resource whose corruption prevention and education role can be strengthened.


Contractors to the military and the defence ministry should be an integral part of the corruption prevention system of defence. But all too often they are seen as a guilty party, whose objective is to extract the maximum amount from their contracts and connections.

Contractors may indeed be guilty of this. On the other hand, they will mostly be ready to cooperate, often relieved to find a sympathetic client who is ready to work with them to reduce the risks and incidence of corruption.

Require compliance programmes

The starting point is that all suppliers to the MOD and military should be required to have anti-corruption ethics and compliance programmes in their companies. This is common in some countries, notably the US, and is a practice that is rapidly spreading across civilian contracting, in reaction to anti-bribery laws such as the Bribery Act in the UK and the Sapin II law in France.

If your country does not have such a law, you may be able to require such programmes as part of defence procurement requirements (as in the USA, see here), or as one component of official tender evaluation criteria.

Invite the contractors to be pro-active

Besides requiring actions from contractors, work with them on measures that they could help that would reduce corruption risks. For example, there may be ways to make the process of developing tender specifications more open and transparent, where contractors can assist, and can indicate if some of the requirements favour certain contractors over others.

Transparency International defence has published examples of what constitutes good defence contractor practice on corruption prevention (cover opposite)[iii]. You could circulate their reports to your contractors.

Invite contractors to contribute to your corruption prevention plans and discussion

Invite the contractors in whom you work with.

Or you can work with the defence industry associations – in your country and internationally – to outline what you expect from contractors and how they can help you.


If you have a ministry where there are high levels of corruption and deep external mistrust of the ministry, one approach could be to inject a critical mass of outsiders into senior positions.

A common feature for forcing change in large organisations is to bring in senior outsiders into key positions. This helps particularly if the senior person comes in to the position as the new Minister. Several of the reforms discussed in this review have been catalysed by such top-level changes.

The same is also true of top positions such as head of Audit, Head of Procurement, Head of operations, Head of logistics. This is less common in defence ministries, usually in deference to the deeper expertise expected to be required.

But we also know of one highly imaginative alternative, in Ukraine, where the MOD brought in 12 outsiders, mostly lawyers working with civil society, into senior positions such as the Head of defence procurement.

We have not yet seen an evaluation of how this turned out. However, even if it was ultimately unsuccessful, it is an imaginative way to disrupt the corrupt relationships that exist inside a long-established highly bureaucratic ministry.









Section 9 


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