Constituent Mitigations

8.3 Countering personnel corruption: recruitment, promotions and payroll

Help introduce and maintain effective personnel systems capable of tracking existing personnel and their salaries.

Promote integrity and merit-based recruitment in host nation institutions, as well as for international education and training courses.

Corruption in personnel systems can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and accountability of armed forces: it puts the wrong people in jobs that require skills and commitment, and tarnishes the legitimacy of the force.  It can also be a means to helping criminal patronage networks co-opt defence and security forces by placing their affiliates in important posts.

International interventions can help limit its impact through a two-pronged approach. First, missions could press host nation governments to address the most widespread risks, from the existence of ghost soldiers and salary chains that enable skimming, to nepotism in recruitment and promotions. This could be done through, for example, placing human resources reform among conditions attached to the assistance programmes, or, in some cases, through creation of entirely new, pre-vetted units that could help spread alternative models of behaviour.

Second, international interventions often involve an element of education and training for host nation forces. These can come with desirable perks, including travel, per diems and career benefits, and can therefore see host nation attempts to recruit for them on the basis of nepotism, patronage or bribery. While it might not always be possible to avoid it, strict merit-based standards for international training can limit the space for corruption, making it more likely that those who can put the training to best use are selected for it.

Costs and benefits:

Personnel reform can be one of the most challenging anti-corruption undertakings. Tackling patronage and nepotism in recruitment can disrupt existing networks and their access to resources, causing significant political backlash and resistance to reform. This is especially likely if patronage in the armed forces is connected to horizontal inequalities between ethnic groups, or if control of the armed forces is also a way to exert political and economic influence over the wider political system. Changing existing personnel structure is also likely to disrupt the functioning of the military, at least until new cadres are in place, and can therefore influence operational effectiveness.

However, in the longer term personnel reform is likely to bring more benefits than costs. Militaries staffed through patronage and nepotism are rarely paragons of effectiveness, as corruption tends to put the wrong people in posts requiring skills, integrity and commitment. Changing the way that the armed forces recruit and promote individuals can also improve their legitimacy and increase their attractiveness as an employer.

Reform of payroll systems to ensure reliable and regular salary payments is likely to quickly improve the living conditions of military personnel, especially at lower levels, and can help remove need-based incentives for fraud and abuse. It will also save resources, with an almost immediate effect. Where challenges are likely to remain (aside from meeting the initial cost of reform) is in ensuring that the new systems are sustainable: in countries where their success depends on international pressure, expertise and oversight, they might not last when left to the host nation to lead. Closing off some of the possible avenues for corruption can also prompt corrupt networks to look for other areas of vulnerability, and can make it necessary to intervene elsewhere.

Host nation recruitment and promotion systems

Where recruitment and promotions are based on patronage, nepotism or bribery, technical solutions such as the introduction of recruitment and promotion boards (ideally supervised by external, independent audit institutions), could help diminish the risks. Collective decision making and transparent, regularly applied recruitment or promotions criteria help increase the likelihood of merit- and integrity-based personnel policies taking root.

Promotions boards, however, might not work if they are in turn co-opted by patronage networks. Making them more effective is likely to depend on whether the international community manages to build up and support alternative sources of power that could provide competition to the patronage networks. In some cases, donors have supported the creation of entirely new units and institutions, hoping to prevent them being co-opted by corrupt networks, and to prompt new networks coalescing around them.

Case Study Snippet

Corruption and Plan Colombia: The Missing Link

In Colombia, the US supported the creation of a counter-narcotics brigade operating independently of other units and in close cooperation with US personnel. Brigade personnel were repeatedly vetted and tested through lie detectors. While US officials classified the Brigade as a success, it has proven difficult to isolate it from other units. It is also unclear to what extent the new units can actually help tackle the underlying problems.

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Limiting the existence of ghost soldiers and embezzlement of salaries

Interventions aiming to reduce the opportunities for diversion of resources through payroll – especially the existence of ghost soldiers – combined audits verifying actual personnel numbers, reform of the pay chain that made payments independent of unit commanders, and oversight allowing for frequent updates to personnel numbers.

  • Responding to the phenomenon of ghost soldiers in the DRC, the EUSEC mission introduced electronic payments into individual accounts, which replaced disbursement of salaries by officers. The mission also issued military ID cards based on biometric features, reducing the risk of fraud. The mission also raised basic salaries, limiting the need-based drivers of corruption. However, continued conflict and patchy commitment of host nation officials threaten the lasting effect of these measures. Corruption and rent-seeking, while reduced in the payment chain, have also become more widespread in other parts of the system, including the sustainment chain.
Case Study Snippet

Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords

In Afghanistan, concerns related to the presence of ghost soldiers prompted the introduction of two electronic payment systems. Their performance, however, depends on available IT infrastructure and reliability of power supply, both of which can be in short supply. They also struggle with reliability of baseline data and the challenges of updating it regularly, without which they can be manipulated or simply allowed to lapse out of date.

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International programming: merit-based educational recruitment

Donor-sponsored educational and training opportunities are frequently attractive to host nation officers, partly because they can help develop careers and partly because they often come with high per diems and extended travel. Where participants are selected based on patronage networks or in exchange for bribes, the courses will likely not target those who would benefit most and who could use the new skills to improve the day-to-day functioning of their institutions. Merit-based, open recruitment for training courses helps reduce the risk of nepotism and patronage.

  • In Colombia and Ukraine, the US and the UK respectively attempted to use merit-based criteria to raise standards and steer institutional development toward a merit-based promotional systems. In Colombia, the requirements for training programmes, including selection criteria, are set out in letters to the Colombian officials responsible for selecting participants, and participants’ credentials are verified. The UK’s selection is similarly stringent – if those suggested for training courses do not fulfil requirements, the host nation is asked to provide alternative candidates.

Key Personnel

  • J1
  • J2
  • J5
  • J7
  • Command Group