GOPAC Position Paper - Oversight is the Continuation of Democracy by Other Means

The defence and security sectors are some of the most challenging areas for effective oversight for parliamentarians. This is true in many countries, including established democracies. Parliamentarians must balance their responsibility to demand accountability from public institutions with the need for a degree of secrecy in the defence and security
sectors. This balance can too easily be tipped heavily toward favouring secrecy in the face of perceived heightened security risks. Once raised, it is difficult to bring the cloak of secrecy back down.

Too much secrecy can allow corruption to run rife. Globally, the arms trade is worth over $1.7 billion. Arms sales are technically complicated and can involve many additions through offsets such as establishing local manufacturing to produce arms parts. Corruption in these sectors can lead to nepotistic hiring and compromised or poor intelligence. These risks result in large amounts of wasted resources, security failures and risks to frontline security providers. 

At its worst, corruption within the defence and security sectors can lead to human rights violations and suppression of liberties. This includes blocking and targeting corruption investigators.

Parliamentarians play an important role in mitigating these risks through oversight, legislation, and debate. Notably parliamentarians decide the appropriate balance between public accountability and secrecy for the defence and security sector and uphold the principle of a civilian administered military. They must scrutinize the proper use of public funds, and ensure the public and security providers are receiving the right protection at the right cost. Finally, parliamentarians must be responsible in passing legislation that ensures a proper balance between transparency and secrecy.

The urgency and heightened political nature involved in the defense and security sectors can push against scrutiny and transparency, and therefore GOPAC encourages parliamentarians to be vigilant and to make informed decisions on the appropriate balance between transparency and secrecy.

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