2020 March 25

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Anti-Corruption Daily

Mar/25/2020 -- Today's News TLDR -- Stay up to date on COVID, Anti-Corruption, Post-Revolution Armenia, Economy, Politics, Diaspora, Daily Life, and more...
by ar_david_hh

Disclaimer: All the accused are innocent until proven guilty by the court of law, even if they may sound as being guilty. Currency in Armenian Drams ֏ unless specified otherwise.

COVID news first, followed by tons of other important stuff.


Yerevan municipality broadcasted a digital billboard in multiple languages and flags telling heavily-hit COVID countries "everything Will be Alright".

Video https://armtimes.com/hy/article/183899

transport operations scale back

Beginning today, there is a nationwide lockdown. People are required to fill out a paper before leaving their homes. Journalists and lawyers are exempt.

Some transport operators scaled back their operations. Inter-provincial buses shut down between Yerevan and Lori.

Gyumri-Yerevan high-speed train reduced its travel frequency. The rail connection with Georgia is still entirely suspended.



no guns for you

The Emergency taskforce suspended the issuance of new gun purchase or manufacturing licenses across Armenia until April.


donations and supplies

SouthCaucasus Railway operator donated 5mln to the Healthcare Ministry account.

VTB bank donated 20mln.

The church donated 20mln.

George Soros will feed 115 elderly for 2 months during COVID.

President Sarkissian met the ambassador of UAE to discuss medical product supplies that the Healthcare Ministry needs. "We have to fight COVID together," said the ambassador.






COVID stats / rapid tests vs standard tests

265 infections. 18 healed (up from 14). 1315 tests came negative. 1 in critical condition. 5 in serious condition. 0 deaths.

0 infections in the army. 1 contractor soldier has a family member with COVID so he and 2 other soldiers took a test. Results later.


Healthcare Minister Torosyan:

The rapid 15-minute tests will be here this week. They aren't nearly as effective as the standard 5-hour test. The rapid test detects things caused by the virus, not the virus itself. We still have to find out whether it's worth using rapid on a mass scale.

We might later switch-back to standard slow/accurate tests. We did >200 such tests yesterday alone.

MP to Minister: can you test every service worker?

Healthcare Minister: No. If I get tested right now, I'll test negative, but I might catch the virus tomorrow. Should I take a 5-hour-long test every day? We will not mass-test people just because they ask to be tested. There needs to be symptoms/risks.





govt relaxes media gag / clarification over removal

The law allows the Emergency taskforce to ban non-official COVID articles to prevent panic or harm caused by rumors during emergencies.

Earlier the ruling party submitted amendments to the law to reduce penalties on non-compliant media outlets. The govt is looking into removing the gag altogether.


Today the govt further relaxed the law by removing the 26th clause. That's the one that required outlets to remove rumors immediately.

Old 26th clause: Սույն գլխով սահմանված դրույթների խախտմամբ կատարված հաղորդումները ենթակա են անհապաղ վերացման այն կատարած անձանց կողմից: (immediately remove non-compliant articles)

New clause: 26-րդ կետն ուժը կորցրած ճանաչել (the 26th clause is canceled)


With that part removed, it appears that the outlets will instead be required to edit articles to include the government's official response to the rumor, within 2 hours after such a response is issued. (It took a global pandemic to teach journalism to Armenian journalists.)


Moreover, when an Armenian outlet re-publishes COVID info originating from a foreign outlet, it has to include the foreign outlet's name in the headline so the reader will know immediately where it is originating from.


A group of Armenian journalists appreciated the government's quick response and the "small improvement", but they insist on removing the entire gag law. "I understand why the government would do this under emergency, but the media should be able to do its job because the information coming from govt could be limited," added OSCE.





Artsakh police catch a fake news spreader

Sanitation workers travel around Artsakh to disinfect areas against COVID.

Someone uses a Facebook Messenger to spread fake voice messages about these sanitation workers committing burglaries.

The police catch and warn the user.


police enforcing movement restrictions

Police are patrolling the streets. Personal cars cannot have more than 2 people inside. 92 people were told to exit cars for exceeding the limit. (did they just ask them to walk home lol)

2 drivers were fined. 78 people were fined for violating lockdown.

Later they identified 659 drivers who had too many passengers and asked everyone to get out.

Those without an ID were picked up from the street and taken to a police station for identification and warning.

Magic wand. People began to fill out papers before leaving their homes. The streets became visibly empty. Wonders can happen when good laws are enforced. BEND THAT CURVE NOW!





food inspectors patrolling stores

The Foood Safety Committee will enforce the rule that requires stores to give masks and gloves to employees.

Employees must use gloves while touching products like bread, then throw away the gloves after handling dirty items like cash.


Central Bank shuts down a loan firm

Central Bank says a famous loan firm Varks.am violated the rules about minimum required capital. Their license is revoked.

A QP MP accused the firm of having dishonest practices and said they'll discuss the topic in Parliament.



Pashinyan about utility bill waivers

Pashinyan said:

We aren't going to pay everyone's utility bills during COVID. The aid will be directed to those who actually suffered losses.

A govt worker still earns wages, so why should we give them aid? Someone who is financially well off doesn't need it. Someone living only on a pension still receives their pension, so there is no change in their financial life.

From day one, I asked the emergency coordinator Avinyan to speak with utility firms so they won't cut gas, electricity, water for those who are unable to pay their bills, but we kept this secret initially because we didn't want everyone to learn about this and take advantage of it if they didn't need to.

(Brings an example) Those who consume 2mln Dram worth gas per month are automatically assumed to be wealthy enough to pay their bill during COVID. Their gas will be cut if they don't pay, but someone who is low-income will receive a pardon.


Pashinyan about unregistered workers

PM during a Parliament session:

We've been telling people to come out of the grey economy and register as legal employees in the past 1.5 years, including unlicensed taxi drivers, whose job we recently made easier by removing some fees.

Only those who are legally registered will feel the benefits of the COVID aid package because we'll be able to find and help only legal ones.

Nonetheless, the govt feels obligated to help the non-registered workers too, but we have a problem with finding them.

A grey worker who is officially registered as unemployed can't receive the aid now because they won't be able to prove they lost their job recently.

We think many unregistered workers are low-income, thus they'll be covered under the proposed expansion of PAROS social aid service.


BHK MP: don't you think the aid for businesses is too little when you split the proposed sum between them?

Pashinyan: not all businesses will receive aid. Many are doing financially great right now. Between March 13-24 they hired 4,000 workers.


Nature Ministry submits the plastic ban bill

If the bill is passed, plastic shopping bags, except handle-less small bags for scaling, will be banned in stores beginning in 2022.

Minister Eric: we're working with the UN to examine the use of plastic in Armenia. I advise switching from plastic to glass bottles.

QP MP: people don't easily give up old habits. Do you plan to launch a public information campaign?

Minister Eric: we did, since 2019. Noticeable results. Up until 2018, they would look at you strangely if you voluntarily refused a plastic bag at a store. Now it's a normal practice..... The business will have time to adjust.


Prosecutors bust embezzlement & abuse at pedagogical university

SOC earlier audited the Abovyan State Pedagogical University papers and sent the results to prosecutors. It's about a Foundation operated by the university. The prosecutors released a report saying:

University's Foundation signed cleaning contracts in 2016 and 2019.

The firm that won the 2016 contract turned out to be bogus. They submitted fake work practice. In reality, the firm didn't have employees until that point. This was verified with the IRS.

The firm also forged docs to claim they operated 50 cleaners while in reality, they had 26.

In Mar-2019 all cleaners quit the firm, yet the firm charged 9mln to provide cleaning operations for the following months. It turns out they didn't quit, and the firm actually cleaned the university, because the university was happy with the cleanup work. IRS says the firm did employment shenanigans to evade taxes.


Then the university signed a contract with the second firm in Jun-2019 which took the money but didn't work. The university staff signed 6 forged documents claiming the works were done.


In 2016 the university's Foundation created its own company to sell food on university territory. The land was leased without a fee.

Then, the Foundation chief's son illegally leased this land to another company and collected 3.5mln/mo since Aug-2019.

A felony case is launched on multiple counts.



Gyumri municipality official demanded a $100 bribe from a resident in exchange for not hindering the resident's ability to register an apartment.

The resident then went to the police and wore a hidden camera so you can watch how the official takes the bribe and gets arrested.

A felony case is launched. Can we get the police to stream these busts on Twitch?



1st lady gets a citation for letting daughter drive

The police gave a $20 ticket to PM's wife Anna Hakobyan because she was teaching her middle daughter how to drive. "We did it in our backyard. As it turns out, even there she doesn't have the right to be on the wheel," said 1st lady.


bill to increase NGO transparency / IRS / money laundering

The Parliament voted 96-16 to approve a govt bill to require all NGOs to provide an annual public report. It was lobbied by the IRS.

"The [old] law requires a public report only if the organization is funded by govt. Some organizations are fully privately funded and aren't transparent at all.

Orgs will publish the number of employees and volunteers not at a later date, but earlier than it is done right now.

Only volunteers who work >20 hours per week need to be added to the transparency report.

To reduce the burden on Orgs, the law will allow them to publish reports online without physical work."


There are 4,000 such organizations, with 500 being active.

Some NGOs raised concerns, saying the new transparency requirement could be used to pressure NGOs.

QP MP to IRS boss: some NGOs raised concerns. Do you think this bill can endanger NGOs and open them to abuse in the future?

IRS boss: No, this is about making NGOs transparent. We want non-profits to publish their financial report. If a government comes and wants to abuse organizations, there are many ways it can be done.

QP MP: can't the journalists check the NGOs? Does the IRS have to do it?

IRS boss: this is about introducing transparency so journalists can do their work more efficiently by accessing the now-available info. There is a public demand for this transparency.


The bill was also advised by FATF (global anti-money laundering and terror financing taskforce) to fight financial abuse by organizations. "Each country has to have laws to ensure non-profits' financial and managemental transparency."







bill to reduce paperwork for foundations

Parliament voted 113-0? to approve a govt bill to introduce online tools to make it easier for foundations to publish annual public reports.


bill to limit govt non-profit chief's term

Parliament voted 108-2 to approve a LHK bill to impose a 6-month limit for acting chiefs of government-run non-profits.


bill to regulate ads in Yerevan / less crap on walls

Parliament passed a QP bill to prohibit the commercial placement of unregulated ads in some public areas such as street light poles, pillars, trees, city furniture. Exceptions are apartment complexes and designated areas.

Govt will install special billboards and allow people to place ads free of charge. There are 360 designated areas ATM.



bill to require govt appliances to be energy-efficient

Parliament voted 115-0? to approve a govt bill to require govt agencies to purchase energy-efficient equipment (e.g. light bulbs) in the future.


free cancer drugs

Update: Healthcare Ministry earlier negotiated with Swiss Roche pharmaceutical firm to reduce the breast cancer drug prices by 40%. This would allow the govt to subsidize the care.

The subsidy program has begun. Patients in 4 hospitals are getting the meds for free. The surgery was made free last year.


oil prices low / land of fire on fire

Saudis and Russians wanted to artificially raise oil prices by cutting output. They couldn't reach a deal. Saudis then pumped tons of oil to punish others and push their own product to markets. Oil dropped to $25.

Azerbaijan calculates its budget assuming oil is $55. The 57% of budget revenues are supposed to come from oil. 91% of foreign trade income is oil products.

The Manat currency is in danger again, as it happened in 2015 when it got devalued twice, wiping large savings owned by ordinary Azeris. Protestors took the streets at the time.

After the 2015 fiasco, Aliyev said they want to reduce reliance on oil prices. The plan was to increase oil giant SOCAR's foreign business dealings in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Turkey, and to build new oil-product processing factories in Azerbaijan.

All this required money. SOCAR accumulated a $10bln debt while Azerbaijan's foreign debt is $9bln. Other state firms like AzerEnergy and AZAL also got under debt.

One possible reason why the debt is "distributed" among various firms is to claim on paper that Azerbaijan-the-country's debt is low thanks to glorious leader Ilham.

Today the govt claims to have $50bln strategic reserves, up 13%. If true, this could keep things stable for a while, but not for too long.

AZ can't just make more $ by exporting more oil. The exports even reduced 3-6% recently. They're exporting below their OPEC+ allowance.

The economic diversification rhetoric yielded no significant results. Oil is still the king.

The real b-tch in this story is the fact that Aliyev can't simply cut social spending to reduce risks. Recently, he dismissed the Parliament for not caring about public enough and being "behind the president". Then the oil prices dropped. Any social cut now is entirely on Aliyev's shoulders.

Tough times ahead for AZ govt for the next several months or longer.

How will that affect foreign policy?


wages up / GDP up / service, trade state

Jan-Feb 2019: GDP +6.5%

Jan-Feb 2020: GDP +8.7%

Construction +6, electricity production +23, services +11, trade volume +6, industrial production +15.

Exports +8. Imports -1.


Consumer Price Index -0.1

Industrial product prices +0.7

Average nominal wages +10


Link to original report and comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/fovrhm/mar252020_todays_news_tldr_stay_up_to_date_on/

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