By Hrach Melkumian
A presidentially appointed body which is supposed to ensure the independence of the Armenian civil service will hold the first competition for vacant government posts this weekend, officials said on Tuesday.
The seven-member Civil Service Council will start the promised reform of the state bureaucracy from selecting 55 members of its staff from a pool of 559 applicants. Its chairman, Manvel Badalian, said the contest will be the first major test of a controversial Armenian law on civil service passed last December amid strong opposition protests.
“The number of applicants shows that our citizens have not yet lost faith in their state institutions,” he argued at a news conference.
The council, formed by President Robert Kocharian in January, is empowered to select staff for most government agencies and regularly check the professional fitness of government officials. The law in question is aimed at protecting civil servants against arbitrary dismissal.
But its passage was for months blocked by opposition factions in the Armenian parliament who argued that the oversight body can not be independent and impartial because it is appointed by Kocharian. They also claim that the provision is unconstitutional.
Badalian, however, pledged that Saturday’s job competition will be fair and objective. He said the council will be seeking to hire young people who have not been tainted with corruption and other illegal practices. He said the same criteria will be applied during the selection of the chiefs of staff of 36 ministries and other government agencies scheduled for November.
In February, the council will carry out crucial “attestations” of the government bureaucracy, another requirement of the law. It will assess professional skills of an estimated 12,000 government employees by administering special examinations. Those who fail to score a minimum number of points will be subject to dismissal.
The process will coincide with campaigning for the presidential election of February 20 in which Kocharian will be a leading candidate. Critics fear that civil servants across the country may come under increased to pressure to ensure the incumbent’s victory or risk losing their jobs, as was the case during the previous, deeply flawed presidential ballots.