Sector News
Corrupt procurement in Ukraine military leaves soldiers buying own equipment

Corruption procurement in the Ukraine military is symptomatic of a wider issue in Ukraine, with the country ranking 144 out of 178 countries (178 being the most corrupt) in Transparency International’s 2013 corruption index. Under former president Viktor Yanukovych, large-scale theft was well-documented as a result of a non-transparent bidding process in public procurement. He said that corrupt dealings in public procurement resulted in 10 percent to 15 percent of the state budget – roughly $7.4 billion – going into the pockets of officials.

In times of peace, public sector corruption is bad enough, but when it spills over into times of unrest or even war – the consequences are devastating if not life-threatening. As conflict in Ukraine continues, more is being revealed about the state of the Ukrainian military. Many of the deficiencies that have been highlighted by international media are the result of corruption, particularly in procurement of military equipment.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Aleksandr Lapko, senior specialist-assistant in the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine, explains that he has encountered the corruption of the Ukrainian military first-hand after his brother was conscripted to serve in the east of the country. He says that he was issued only an old fashioned AK-47 upon joining the army. So his family was forced to fork out around $2,400 to pay for a second-hand NATO uniform, body armour, a helmet, kneepads, boots a gun sight and winter gear.

According to Mr Lapko, the Defence Ministry’s procurement process has been kept secret in recent times. For instance, specifications for items such as body armour aren’t published. The government is therefore able to purchase low-quality equipment. Recently several former ministry officials have been accused of spending $5.6 million on low-quality body armour, which allegedly led to dozens of casualties as it was unable to withstand a direct hit from a bullet. Mr Lapko says that two Defence Ministry procurement directors were fired for corruption in August and that new procurement procedures have been put in place to prevent corrupt practices. However, he adds that soldiers are still being told to buy their own equipment.

Earlier this year, “representatives from the internal audit department were excluded from procurement committees and lost their mandate to check army contracts. The military’s official explanation was that in times of war the army leadership needs the authority and flexibility to conduct its own purchases in order to supply troops as quickly as possible.” Yet the military does not have enough equipment for new recruits – so much for new procurement procedures.

A similar story was reported in The Daily Beast. A soldier named only as ‘Sergei’ says he bought his own uniform because the one he was given fell apart in a few days. He too claimed soldiers are given no more than a gun, forcing friends and families to collect money for helmets, bulletproof vests, medication and vehicles. Sergei says that this equipment went missing and, along with many other soldiers, and suspects it was stolen by officers.

An article in Defence One cites a 2012 analysis by senior defence official Leonid Polyakov, detailing corruption in Ukraine’s military procurement. He says that outdated equipment was sold at “unreasonably understated prices” in return for kickbacks, and that procurement fraud and bribery were common. He adds that the military began having to cover its own costs, which forced senior officers into business. Mr Polyakov also found that commanders were using military equipment, infrastructure and personnel to build and repair their private properties. As a result, military vehicles and equipment are unusable because of  lack of fuel or missing parts.

New procurement procedures were supposed to prevent corrupt practices that put soldiers at even greater risk. So what can Ukraine do to safeguard against such practices? In tomorrow’s article we will explore the efforts of Ukraine’s new anti-corruption bureau.