Bangladesh Military (Thief): as inept as it is corrupt

The Thief

The answer to why Bangladesh’s military seems impotent against Myanmar’s aggression is that it is more mafia than military.

Key Points:

    • Corruption, self-interest over national security and inefficiencies riddled Bangladesh Armed Forces
    • Bangladesh military especially  Bangladesh Air Force is poorly equipped to deter Tatmadaw aggression
    • Myanmar ($67 billion GDP) is threatening the national security of Bangladesh ($221 billion GDP)
    • One million Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine State of Myanmar
    • Tatmadaw Helicopters violates Bangladeshi Airspace on many occasions
    • Myanmar Navy escorted South Korean oil exploration rig inside Bangladeshi exclusive economic zone to explore oil and gas
    • Myanmar Border Police killed Bangladesh Border Guard soldiers on many occasions

The armed forces account for 6% of Bangladesh’s annual budget, totalling USD3.2 billion in the year 2017-2018 according to official statistics. The military has been practically unaccountable since the very foundation of the country.

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Bangladesh Army Soldiers (Source BD News 24)

Bangladesh resorts to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)  to resolve a maritime dispute with Myanmar. Myanmar had shown no respect to Bangladesh’s territorial sovereignty when Myanmar Air Force repeatedly violates Bangladeshi airspace. Bangladesh military has proved to be incapable of showing strengths against the repeated violation of land, sea and airspace. In the year 2017, nearly million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, with the UN condemning the Myanmar government for its policy of textbook ethnic cleansing.

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Tatmadaw Helicopter is hovering over Bangladeshi Airspace (Source BD News 24)

Read More Sexual Abuse: The Dark Side of Bangladesh Army’s UN Peacekeeping Operations

Why the Bangladesh military has failed to restore public confidence that it can defend territorial sovereignty of Bangladesh. How does one explain these failures? There can be many explanations. However, if there is an overriding message from these debacles, it is that the military is ill-equipped to defend the state because it has captured much of the bedrock of the state to which it is unaccountable.

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Rohingya Refugees in Cox Bazar (Source BD News 24)
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Transocean Offshore Drilling Rig escorted by Myanmar Navy Ships spotted within Bangladeshi EEZ (Source The Daily Star)

Commercial Interest

The military’s power is such that Bangladesh government reward them with commercial assets and businesses even they are incapable of defending Bangladesh’s land, airspace and exclusive economic zone.  The military’s business empire, estimated at about US$12 Billion.

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Prime MInister Shiekh Hasina is at the inauguration ceremony of  Bangladesh Army operated Trust Cab taxi business (Source BD News 24)

Following Pakistan military’s business model, Sena Kallyan Sangstha (SKS), a concern of Bangladesh Army operates a dairy farm, ice cream factory, food, textiles, jute, garments, electronics, real estate and travel businesses. Bangladesh military also operates Dhaka Radisson hotel, Trust bank, VDP bank, credit society, automobile, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries.

Read More Bangladesh airspace can belong to anyone who wants it

The Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS), a trust run by the Bangladesh Army, has launched Sena Cement and Sena LPG brand at Mongla plant.

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Bangladesh Army Officers at the opening ceremony of Sena Cement and Sena LPG (Source BD News)

The BBC reveals that the army’s business ambitions include power plant, roads, infrastructure and bridge project accounting billions of dollar private assets. Bangladesh Army diverted almost $400 million dollar from national defense budget to the Padma bridge project whilst failed to acquire MLRS from Serbia or China due to fund being diverted to commercial bridge project.

Padma Bridge Project
Bangladesh Army’s commercial engagement in Padma Bridge Project (Source BD News 24)

Corruption in Bangladesh Armed Forces

In the year 2007 document revealed that the-then army chief, Gen Moeen U Ahmed, got loans several times larger than the rules allow.

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Trust Bank chairman and Bangladesh Army’s chief of army staff General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq (Source The Daily Star)

In the year 2009, the BDR mutiny was partly fuelled by resentment among the BDR’s rank-and-file over the corruption of army officers engaged in the retail sale of consumer items.

Read More Bangladesh Air Force: A Band of Morons

In the year 2012, Defence Adviser Maj Gen (Retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique was involved in bribary of BDT 7 million carried by a government vehicle. The vehicle with the money was confiscated by the Border Guard Bangladesh. Maj Gen (Retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique called the then chief of army staff, General Md Abdul Mubeen to released the vehicle and the money. Intelligence sources reported that the Army chief was paid a large some othe money to release the vehicle.

Radisson Blu 5 star hotel owned by Bangladesh Army
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Tiger Garden Hotel Operated by Bangladesh Army. Photo by Trip Advisor

Engaging in Politics

The Bangladesh military inherited both the institutional framework of its British Indian and Pakistan Army predecessors as well as their orientation against the civilian rule, their sensitivity to political power, responsibility and accountability to the People of Bangladesh, ultimately the constitution of Bangladesh.

Read More Contested Skies: BAF’s uncertain Future

Bangladesh military has directly ruled the country for 15 of its 46 years of existence. On 15 September 1991, a parliamentary system of government was proposed in the Twelfth Amendment Act in August, and a constitutional referendum ratified the institutional framework for parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh.

Currently, some Bangladeshi politicians have a military background to advocate and discourage government not to engage in military matters. Still, to-date, every Bangladesh’s democratically-elected civilian leaders have been forced to tread carefully with the military.

Dual Role

Bangladesh armed forces are heavily armed police or internal security forces that also have a dual military role. Examples include Bangladesh Military is repeatedly called on duty to prevent civil unrest. The military had intervened in 2007 amid unrest when the two major political parties were battling to come to power.

The regular participation in dual role causes significant issues of prioritisation between the national securities, demands of modern warfare, UN peacekeeping mission and disaster relief operation by the Military.

The political involvement of the military in internal affairs makes it hard for the civil administration such as the ministry of defence and the military accountable to the parliament of Bangladesh.

Policy Vacuum

The President of Bangladesh is the Commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh military, the Armed Forces Division also known as AFD is the principal administrative organisation by which military policy is formulated and executed. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) should have exercised authority over the Armed Forces and however, is far less potent than the AFD.

The Ministry of Defence should have been the policy maker and advised by the well-versed defence advisor and policymaker working for the department. In the absence of the advisors, the execution of policies is harder due to weak governance, civil authority and lack of accountability of the military organisation.

Convoluted Military Organisation

Currently, both the AFD and the MoD are headed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. To coordinate military policy both the President and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh are advised by a six-member advisory board, three Chiefs of Staff, Principal Staff Officer of the AFD, and Military Secretaries to the President and the Prime Minister.

The current convoluted military and civilian organisation make it harder for the government to make changes in military structure, defence procurement and execute those military policies. For example, the defence budget is not well planned and executed for the national security rather than focused on a procurement list catered for the Forces Goal 2030.

Lack of adequate planning

There are various ways in which Bangladesh military budgeting and expenditure processes can fall short of best practices under international standard.

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Exclusive Economic Zone of Bangladesh

Military budgeting and procurement should be linked to established defence policy goals, not the Forces Goal 2030. The decision-making is carried out in a policy vacuum, wasting money on unnecessary systems while failing to meet genuine security needs, and with an enhanced risk of corruption. Bangladesh defence procurement may be a disconnect between policy and budgeting and procurement practice.

Weak democratic control

Many developing countries, even those with generally democratic governments, have very weak oversight of defence matters by the parliament, Bangladesh is no different to that matter. Due to historical reason, many believe that the military sector is a ‘no-go area’.

The state security is often used as an excuse for secrecy, resulting in insufficient transparency in defence budgeting and procurement. The defence sector believes that they require special treatment compared to other public sectors since they deal with national security matters. The military itself discourages ‘interference’ from parliament, or from the civilian government.

Arms procurement

No kickbacks no procurement is the policy of the Director General of Defense Procurement (DGDP), Bangladesh.  Hence Russia and China are the choosen suppliers of Bangladesh military. Within military spending, a particularly problematic area is arms procurement. It has been well-documented fact by SIPRI that the international arms trade and, more generally, arms procurement practices in Asia, Africa and MiddleEast are highly susceptible to waste and corruption. Bangladesh military’s off-budget spending is often contributed to military’s business activities.

Bangladeshi newspaper reported that Bangladesh Army has diverted $400 million military budgets to Padma Bridge project for the purpose of personal gain and embezzlement of funds which was allocated for Multiple Launch Rocket Systems of Army.

Weak monitoring, controls and audits facilitate corruption and waste. Sometimes the parliament and in particular, Auditor General of Bangladesh and the anti-corruption watchdog is reluctant to investigate the military or even be actively prevented from doing so.

Even in the absence of dishonesty, failure to implement due process is often lead to purchases of the high-cost items and questionable strategic purpose, severe delays and cost overruns.

Transparency

Bangladesh provides limited information on military expenditure, such as just a headline defence budget figure. The military expenditure figures are dynamic not followed by definition, or the definitions have changed and whether figures are for budgeted expenditure.

Bangladesh has published military expenditure figures which systematically excludes significant items of military expenditure. Bangladesh also bans disclosing expenditure figures of arms imports similar to other developing nations.

Some leading Bangladeshi figures in business has admitted that military-owned businesses are virtually indistinguishable from other commercial enterprises in the way they operate. The irony is that military business interests have thrived more under the civilian rule than under martial law regime of General Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

However, as its military’s ambitions develop, it seems that the debate about whether or not the military should engage in such business activities or concentrate on national security and protection of sovereignty.

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