16 October 2012

A Sunday Times sting involving five recently retired Generals and an Admiral makes sad reading.  These officers, who held the most senior positions in the British Forces, were secretly filmed discussing how they could support an arms dealer gain access to procurement decision-makers. Two other officers were wholly unreceptive to the approach.

The Forces pride themselves on leadership and integrity.  These officers will have spent a substantial part of the last 20 years of their service advocating, and purporting to model, those characteristics. However the media report suggests that they lack integrity and their personal values fall short of the standards expected of military leaders.

Under the UK Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, officers retiring from positions such as Chief of Defence Staff, Head of Defence procurement, Head of the Army and Head of the Navy are prohibited from lobbying for two years.  But one suggested that calling himself a consultant rather than a lobbyist meant the rule didn’t apply, another indicated that he had already lobbied for a foreign defence firm, and a third spoke of  having access to the Permanent Head of the Ministry of Defence who had been at the same school.

A former Head of the Army considered it “entirely appropriate” for retired senior officers to use their previous experience to advise private companies, but had no plans himself to contravene the rules by lobbying officers in charge of  government contracting.

Although general ranking officers are expected to epitomize honour and integrity, none appears to have thought it wrong to use connections to support a foreign arms dealer influence military procurement.  This denial of conflicts of interest led the Minister of Defence to suggest that tougher regulation of meetings between serving and former military personnel may be necessary, including extending  the two-year “purdah”.

“If we find that people are not abiding by the advice they are given then we will need to look at whether there are steps we can take to shut down their access to Ministers and officials.”

The advisory committee – which may be replaced by a watchdog with enforcement powers –  said there should be an urgent investigation of these serious allegations.

In New Zealand, with one exception, the only State sector employees having a constraint on their activities after leaving government employment, are Public Service chief executives.  The agreement of the State Services Commissioner is needed if future employment may be a conflict with their previous responsibilities.  There is also a statutory prohibition for 12 months on former immigration officers becoming licensed immigration consultants.