Leadership: The General Has To Get Paid

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January 28, 2009: The former commander of the Chilean Air Force, general Ramon Vega, was recently arrested for taking bribes to authorize the purchase of 24 second-hand Mirage fighters from Belgium in 1994. Chile paid $4.1 million for each of the aircraft. But it was later discovered that Belgium had only received $2.9 million for each of the fighters. Further investigation found that the missing $39 million had been paid in bribes, mostly to members of general Vega's family. The money went to foreign bank accounts. Vega said he knew nothing about the foreign accounts and the missing money.

What's not surprising is that there is corruption in the procurement of military equipment. This is a tradition that goes back thousands of years (and that's just the written record). But in many parts of the world, like Southeast Asia, it amounts to 10-20 percent of the cost of the weapons, equipment or supplies. This is particularly the case if the weapons are brought from abroad. If there are competing suppliers, everyone knows that, whoever offers the highest bribe, gets the sale.

The governments involved do not like this sort of thing to be made public. For then they have to at least go through the motions of eliminating the corrupt practices. All this means is that some bribes may be lost (not paid) or delayed. But it's annoying if your accustomed to plundering in peace. The situation in Chile is increasingly common, as new governments vow to "clean up the mess" left by their predecessor. That sometimes includes bringing former officials to account for real or imagined sins.

 


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