By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian condemned on Tuesday several key government agencies, including the national security ministry and the prosecutor’s office, for what he said is their “undue and illegal interference” in business which stifles economic activity in Armenia.
Kocharian, according to his press office, told the ministers of national security, finance, industry and state revenues as well as the country’s prosecutor-general and customs chief to stop creating “artificial obstacles” for local firms or face strict punishment. “Creating equal conditions for businesses must be a top priority for all of us,” he said.
The top officials were summoned to the presidential residence for an extraordinary meeting which Kocharian said was necessitated by growing complaints from private companies. The presidential press service did not cite any concrete examples of government interference in business, and it was not clear which government agencies got most of the blame.
Armenian businesspeople have long complained about frequent and unjustified inspections conducted at their companies by tax authorities and the law-enforcement agencies. The latter are widely accused of abusing their powers to harass and extort bribes from businesses. Local and foreign entrepreneurs also point to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and preferential treatment enjoyed by companies controlled by influential government officials.
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and National Security Minister Karlos Petrosian, for instance, reportedly have extensive interests in some lucrative sectors of the economy. The two men are among Kocharian’s closest political henchmen.
Western donor states and lending institutions have been pressing for an improvement of Armenia’s business environment, which they believe is vital for its economic development. They say a crackdown on rampant corruption should be at the heart of the effort.
The authorities in Yerevan have repeatedly pledged to scale down corrupt practices. But little has changed so far.
Kocharian on Tuesday blamed the government corruption on what he admitted is a recent increase in the smuggling of foreign consumer goods into Armenia. He was quoted as saying that “such a situation could not have arisen without the connivance of relevant [government] structures.”