Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Editorial | Fix glaring flaws in integrity bill

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Military procurement is notorious globally for corruption, riddled with steroids-induced contracts to facilitate graft and kickbacks. It is equal opportunity feculence, afflicting both developing and developed countries.

The Americans, the world's largest procurer and supplier of military equipment, no doubt appreciate this. They have, among others, the experience of the ongoing Fat Leonard scandal, involving the company Glenn Defence Marine Asia bribing navy officials.

The scam earned its title from the nickname of the company's boss, a 350-pound Malaysian named Leonard Glenn Francis, who is among 14 people, including a dozen officers and other navy personnel, to have so far pleaded guilty in a scandal in which at least 30 US admirals came under the scrutiny of investigators.

There was, too, the even more notorious Al-Yamamah deal of the early 2000s. In that, UK defence contractor BAE Systems allegedly paid Saudi officials around £S3 billion in kickbacks on a £S50-billion sale of military aircraft, only to have the investigation into the matter, by the Serious Fraud Office, stopped by the then Tony Blair government on the grounds of national security - a decision that was roundly condemned by the British courts. More recently, countries as diverse as China, Malaysia, South Africa, India and France have been dogged by similar military procurement scandals.

 

Inefficient contracts

 

But even when generals, admirals, defence ministry officials and top police officers are not lining their pockets from procurement deals, security services contracts are known for their inefficiency and waste. Seven years ago, for instance, the US Government Accountability Office reviewed 98 major military acquisition programmes and found that they, combined, were overrun to the tune of US$402 billion.

The major cause for such leakages, researchers have determined, is the absence of transparency around defence and national-security procurement deals. And herein lies our concern with Section 52 of the Integrity Act, approved by the Senate on Thursday and now headed back to the House to incorporate amendments proposed by the upper chamber.

We are on record as being in support for the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency, with its own, independent prosecutor. But like Mark Golding, the leader of opposition business in the Senate, we fundamentally disagree with the carte blanche removal of authority from the agency's director of investigations to probe "any government contract which the Cabinet determines that, based on the nature of such a contract and terms and conditions thereof, ought to be kept confidential".

The Cabinet's election-eve insertion of itself last November in the determination in the award of more than J$600 million in contracts for public landscaping and cleaning causes us to be uneasy with such unfettered authority to deny review and/or oversight. This absence of trust is an issue not only for this newspaper. It is for the same reason, as well as the many examples internationally, that we reject the legislation's a priori prohibition of the investigation of contracts "for the purposes of defence or for the supply of equipment for the security forces".

Indeed, these provisions run counter to Transparency International's recommendation of a year ago, in its report on corruption in defence and security procurement, for countries to "review procurement processes and implement systems that increase transparency". There must be ways to do this - as other countries increasingly are - without undermining national security or providing cover to those who would be corrupt. Those adjustments must be made to the bill.