Corruption in Armenia

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Graffiti in Yerevan advocating the stop of corruption in Armenia.
Graffiti in Yerevan advocating the stop of corruption in Armenia.

A big problem impeding progress in Armenia is corruption. This is known to be widespread in many arms of the government.


Armenia occupied a lowly 129th place in Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 183 countries. It ranked 123rd of 178 nations surveyed in 2010. [1]


Government Reports Rise In `Corruption Crimes'

By Ruzanna Stepanian

An aide to President Robert Kocharian reported on Wednesday a 15 percent rise in the number of corruption-related crimes registered by the Armenian authorities during the first half of this year.

But Bagrat Yesayan, who advises Kocharian on anti-corruption initiatives, cautioned that this is not necessarily a sign of growing government corruption in the country.

According to official figures presented by Yesayan, Armenian law-enforcement authorities identified and solved 227 `corruption crimes' from January through June, up from 198 such cases reported during the same period last year. He said most of those cases involve `embezzlement and waste' of government resources, with two unspecified persons already handed prison sentences on such charges.

An official report cited by Yesayan says five other individuals were prosecuted for accepting bribes. However, nobody was held accountable for giving bribes, according to the report.

The presidential adviser refused to identify any of the individuals reportedly punished for corruption. No senior government officials are known to have been sacked and prosecuted this year.

Yesayan also stressed that the figures do not automatically mean that there were more instances of bribery and other corrupt practices in Armenia this year than in the past. `You may interpret this as a rise in corruption, while I may see a rise in the number of corruption-related crimes solved by the authorities,' he told a news conference. `I think this is a quite positive phenomenon.'

The official statistics comes on the heels of the latest report by the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International which suggests that corruption in Armenia has increased over the past year. Armenia slumped from 82nd to 88th place in Transparency's annual rankings of corruption perceptions in 146 nations around the world.

But Yesayan cast doubt on the credibility of the closely-watched study. `Corruption is not a bunch of potatoes which you can measure and say whether it has increased or decreased,' he said. `Corruption is a phenomenon which is impossible to measure, just as it is impossible to measure love and other phenomena.'

Still, the Transparency International report will at least raise questions about the implementation of an anti-corruption program launched by the Armenian authorities two years ago. The process is supposed to be overseen by a special Council on Combating Corruption which was formed by Kocharian last year.

That body in turn formed a `monitoring commission' tasked with assess progress of the effort. The commission is headed by Yesayan.

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 11/02/2005


Armenia Slides In Global Corruption Rankings

By Astghik Bedevian

The situation with government corruption in Armenia has continued to slowly but steadily deteriorate in the past year, according to the latest global survey released by a respected anti-graft watchdog on Tuesday.

Every year the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) rates countries of the world on a 10-point scale, with zero indicating an extremely high degree of corruption as perceived by entrepreneurs and experts.

Armenia, along with Argentina, Moldova and four other states, ranked 109th out of 180 nations covered by Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It was assigned a score of 2.9, faring slightly worse than it did in the previous CPI released one year ago.

Armenia’s score is based on seven corruption-related surveys conducted by other organizations, including the World Bank. It had already dropped by 0.1 point to 3.0 last year, dragging the country down to 99th place in TI’s 2007 rankings.

By contrast, TI found a further significant drop in perceived corruption in neighboring Georgia, giving the latter 3.9 points and putting it in 67th place. Georgia was 79th in last year’s CPI.

As always, the Armenian government and its supporters will draw comfort from the fact that all other non-Baltic former Soviet states were again judged to be more corrupt than Armenia. In particular, its arch-foe Azerbaijan regressed to 158th place in TI’s latest rankings.

TI’s Armenian affiliate, the Center for Regional Development (CRD), portrayed the survey as a further indication of the “systemic” character of bribery and other corrupt practices that have long plagued the country. “Unfortunately, there are very few areas unaffected by corruption,” the CRD chairwoman, Amalia Kostanian, told a news conference. “If corruption is systemic, you can not eradicate it in one particular area.”

The administration of former President Robert Kocharian pledged to combat corruption throughout its decade-long rule that came to an end last spring. It launched in 2003 a Western-backed anti-corruption program consisting of mainly legislative measures. There is little evidence that they have reduced the scale of graft, however.

Kocharian’s successor and longtime close associate, Serzh Sarkisian, admitted in July that the virtual absence of prosecutions of corrupt government officials has undermined public trust in the declared crackdowns on corruption. “People must see that we are not only talking but also acting,” Sarkisian said in a speech. “If we talk about corruption all day long and don’t show persons engaged in it, then our actions will not only produce zero results but will further aggravate the situation.”

His prime minister, Tigran Sarkisian, (no relation) has been even more vocal in acknowledging the seriousness of the problem. Sarkisian has described graft as the number one problem facing Armenia.

Opposition politicians and other government critics dismiss the significance of such statements, saying that corruption is one of the pillars of Armenia’s political system that has allowed Kocharian, Sarkisian and other top officials to stay in power. They also say that Armenian law-enforcement agencies are themselves too corrupt to tackle the problem in earnest.



Sarkisian Vows ‘Drastic Steps’ Against Corruption

By Emil Danielyan

President Serzh Sarkisian pledged to take “drastic steps” to eradicate government corruption in Armenia as he presented his administration’s priorities to the National Assembly on Thursday.

In a 40-minute speech, Sarkisian said he will strive to turn Armenia into a rule-law country with a competitive economy, independent courts and equal opportunities for all citizens. He stressed the importance of public support for this endeavor but made no mention of the lingering political crisis triggered by last February’s disputed presidential election. His sole reference to the tense domestic political situation was an appeal to pro-government and opposition parties and media to stop offending each other in public.

Contrary to some expectations fuelled by his own loyalists, Sarkisian did not announce a general amnesty for dozens of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who were arrested in the wake of the vote and remain in prison. Nor did he comment on chances of a dialogue with the Armenian opposition.

The president instead told the mainly pro-government lawmakers to help him “build a society of resourceful and competitive individuals where there is no place for corruption, where corruption is simply not beneficial and illogical.” “The fight against corruption will change its face,” he said. “We will switch to tougher and more uncompromising methods and a system of international standards.

“We will criminalize any manifestation of corruption. We will create a culture of absolute public intolerance towards corruption.”

“The level of identifying and prosecuting abuse of power will rise irreversibly,” he said, promising high-profile prosecutions of corrupt officials.

Sarkisian admitted recently that the lack of such prosecutions undermined public trust in the Armenian government’s previous anti-graft campaigns that put the emphasis on legislative changes.

Sarkisian argued that the existence of an independent judiciary is also vital for strengthening the rule of law. “We must be able to put in place an independent judiciary based on the supremacy of law,” he said.

The pledge will ring hollow to opposition representatives and civil rights activists who have condemned as a travesty of justice the ongoing trials of opposition activists arrested in the wake of the presidential ballot. Virtually all of them have been found guilty by Armenian courts.

Economic development was another focus of the first presidential speech in the parliament, with Sarkisian promising to make the Armenian economy more competitive and ensure fair business competition. He said the economic situation in the country will also improve as a result of large-scale projects such as the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran and an Armenian-Iranian railway. He said that the government will also start constructing “in the coming months” a new nuclear plant in place of the aging Soviet-era facility at Metsamor.

Contents

Sarkisian Rages At ‘Widespread Corruption’ In State Procurement

Ruzanna Stepanian

Հրապարակված է՝ 17.09.2012 President Serzh Sarkisian berated his government in unusually strong terms at the weekend for what he described as widespread bribery and nepotism in state procurements administered by various Armenian ministries and other government bodies.

In an uncharacteristically emotional outburst, Sarkisian cited damning findings of an inquiry conducted by the presidential Oversight Service during an extraordinary cabinet meeting. According to the service, procurement contracts are routinely awarded to private firms in violation of an Armenian law that was adopted in late 2010 to prevent corrupt practices and lower the cost of goods and services commissioned by the government.

Sarkisian singled out “kickbacks paid at the expense of the state budget” to officials handling procurement tenders. “In this regard, Tigran, I assess the work of the government very negatively, very negatively,” he told Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in remarks aired by state television and other major TV channels. “I have been frankly talking to you about this for four years, but processes are still going on.”

“Strangely, goods that we purchase through tenders are cheaper in the market. Should anyone be held answerable for that?” he said.

Sarkisian went on to instruct state prosecutors and the National Security Service to investigate the reported abuses and “go after people who take kickbacks and have their cousins win tenders with twice the prices” offered by other potential suppliers. He stressed that the law-enforcement bodies must start the crackdown from high-level officials.

The angry remarks were the most serious criticism of the Armenian prime minister and his cabinet publicly made by Serzh Sarkisian so far. “All of your evaluations are sobering and they obligate us to make substantial changes in our work,” a visibly embarrassed Tigran Sarkisian told the president.

Commenting on the harsh criticism on Monday, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, said it heralds a toughening of the fight against corruption. “All those officials that are stagnant and cannot or do not want to carry out the president’s orders will not work anymore,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a former member of the governing coalition which is now at odds with Tigran Sarkisian, welcomed the criticism. BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said it gave more weight to BHK claims that the premier is incompetent and must be sacked.

For its part, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), dismissed President Sarkisian’s remarks as a “pre-election show in which nobody will believe.” Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said Sarkisian thus “exposed the essence” of his administration.

“One gets the impression that after many years of tolerated plunder the leader of the [ruling] gang decided to rage at plunderers led by himself,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Former Coalition Member Concerned Over Corruption Cases

Irina Hovhannisyan 16.10.2012

A series of corruption inquiries and arrests ordered by the Armenian authorities in recent weeks might be directed against the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a senior BHK representative suggested on Tuesday.

The crackdown followed a September 15 government meeting during which President Serzh Sarkisian denounced what he called widespread corruption in the administration of state procurements and ordered law-enforcement bodies to investigate it.

Several senior government officials were sacked in the following weeks amid criminal proceedings launched by the Armenian police. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and various state bodies alleged serious abuses in construction work commissioned by the government, purchases of government-subsidized medication as well as food supplies to state-run kindergartens and orphanages.

The alleged misappropriation of public funds occurred in the areas of responsibility of the Armenian ministries of urban development, health and social security. The ministries were headed by BHK members until the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian pulled out of Armenia’s governing coalition in June. Media commentators have suggested that the criminal inquiries may be part of government efforts to get the BHK to support President Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential election.

“We certainly have concerns,” Naira Zohrabian, a leading BHK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We are concerned that they are targeting those officials who represented the BHK in the government. And if we see attempts to divert those cases from the legal plane, our reaction will not be long in coming.”

Vartan Vartanian, the BHK-affiliated former urban development minister, was questioned by the police on Monday in connection with $1.7 million repairs of the National Library building in Yerevan. The government says they were mishandled by a private contractor chosen in a supposedly competitive tender.

Samvel Tadevosian, the current urban development minister, said late last month that much of that work needs to be redone because of its extremely poor quality. Gor Kamalian, who was a senior official at the Urban Development Ministry during Vartanian’s tenure, was arrested by the police earlier this month.

Zohrabian expressed confidence that the former minister will not be prosecuted. “I am sure that our colleague Vartan Vartanian has something to say about the National Library, and I have no doubts that he will answer all questions,” she said.

Zohrabian also insisted that former Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian, another prominent BHK member, was not responsible for allegedly fraudulent practices in the purchase by hospitals and other medical institutions of government-subsidized drugs. A state regulatory body said on October 10 that those abuses cost the state budget 1.5 billion drams ($3.7 million) last year alone.

“I can say for certain that the former minister of health has nothing to do with that,” said Zohrabian.

Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), denied any political motives behind these cases, arguing that some HHK members are also under investigation. “All claims that this is a political persecution of the Prosperous Armenia Party or its individual members are absurd,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

The HHK has likewise said that a controversial criminal case pending against Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister affiliated with the BHK, is not politically motivated. The BHK insists, however, that Oskanian’s prosecution on embezzlement charges is an act of “political persecution” of both the ex-minister and Tsarukian’s party.

Government Plans More Powers For Anti-Corruption Body

Naira Bulghadarian 30.12.2015

As part of its stated fight against corruption, the Armenian governments plans to give more powers to a body that scrutinizes income declarations submitted by senior state officials and their family members.

The Commission on the Ethics of High-Rankings Officials was formed by President Serzh Sarkisian four years ago with the stated aim of detecting possible illegal self-enrichment by some 600 officials. None of those officials is known to have been sanctioned by the commission to date despite regular media reports linking some of them with lucrative businesses.

Many senior officials have attributed their and their close relatives’ conspicuous wealth to lavish financial “gifts” received from unnamed individuals. The anti-graft body has not investigated the origin of those donations.

Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian unveiled this week a government bill that would empower the commission to fine officials refusing to file income declarations or underreporting their assets up to 1 million drams ($2,100). She said this will put it in a better position to accomplish its mission.

Varuzhan Hoktanian, the executive director of the Armenian branch of Transparency International, reacted cautiously to the announcement on Wednesday. He said it is not yet clear whether officials fined by the commission will face prosecution in case of again failing to declare their assets.

“The minister did not clearly answer this question,” Hoktanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Other civil society representatives were even more skeptical about the proposed measure. “I’m sure that those fines won’t be a solution to the problem,” said Levon Barseghian of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists’ Club.

“Even if they fine people 5 million drams that won’t make any difference,” agreed Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist based in Vanadzor. He claimed that Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and other senior officials will continue to underreport millions of dollars’ worth of personal assets.

The Armenian government vowed to step up its declared fight against corruption in July as Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian chaired the first meeting of his newly formed anti-graft council. The council approved a plan of mostly legislative actions meant to complicate corrupt practices among officials dealing with healthcare, education, tax collection and law enforcement. Officials said that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is ready to provide the bulk of $750,000 needed for the program’s implementation.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills defended in November the promised U.S. assistance to the government body, saying that it will be contingent on “measurable achievements.” “If the council does not deliver, our support will end, plain and simple,” he warned.

References

  1. http://www.armenialiberty.org/content/article/25017499.html



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