Leadership: Making A Dent

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May 30, 2011: In Russia, the chief military prosecutor recently revealed that about 20 percent of the defense budget is stolen each year. This in spite of the fact that, for the last three years, military anti-corruption efforts have uncovered more and more corruption. But the government is serious about this, and many officers and officials are being jailed. In 2007, 196 senior officers were prosecuted for corruption. Only about ten percent were generals, all the rest were colonels, who do most of the actual work of buying things. Hundreds of lower ranking troops were prosecuted as well. Back then, the government believed that about a third of the military budget was lost to corruption. Some of this was money stolen, but a lot of it was waste, from giving contracts to companies that supplied shoddy, or overpriced, equipment and supplies. Since the 1990s, there have been a growing number of stories about troops getting spoiled food, or none at all. Some died from food poisoning, or even starvation. Despite growing public uproar, the corruption continued to survive.

Like corrupt civilian bureaucrats, those in the military tend to demand bribes to do anything. This includes some promotions, and taking care of basic functions like building housing or providing food and fuel. For the last three years, even the government has been discussing this open secret as part of this effort to eliminate the corruption.

Russians are very history minded, and Stavka (General Staff) experts point out that the most effective armed forces throughout history, tend to be the least corrupt. The Russian armed forces have, historically, been corrupt. Only during major wars (the last one for Russia was World War II) has the corruption been cleared up. And during World War II, that involved executing or imprisoning nearly a million (994,300) troops (out of nearly 40 million called to service) for misbehaving (desertion, disobeying orders, incorrect political thinking). One category of offenses was failure to discover and turn in factory managers who were producing shoddy weapons. During the war, officers from units getting weapons, were used as inspectors and auditors in the arms factories. This practice was halted after the war. The Stavka historians have pointed out that more effort will be needed to make a dent in the corruption.

Three years ago, newly elected Russian president Dmitry Medvedev began a major effort to reduce corruption in the government, police and the military, He has since made a lot of progress in cleaning up the entire criminal justice system (from street cops to the highest ranking judges). The basic idea is that you really can't go after corruption if the cops and courts can still be bought off. Medvedev encountered a lot of resistance to new anti-corruption laws, since so many legislators get some of their income from corrupt practices. Now Medvedev is turning his focus on the military. Recently, dozens of senior military procurement officials were dismissed, and more are being prosecuted. Medvedev is publicly criticizing the poor performance of the military procurement bureaucracy. All this may not cleanse the military of all its corruption, but it's obviously making a dent.

 

 


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