By Atom Markarian
More than 540 people have been selected on a competitive basis to work for various government agencies since the entry into force of a controversial Armenian law on civil service last October, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Manvel Badalian, head of the State Council on Civil Service, said his agency has received a total of 1,180 applications for those positions and chose the successful ones as a result of professional examinations.
The law in question, passed by the parliament in 2001, mandates competitive recruitment for all 7,250 jobs deemed part of Armenia’s civil service. That includes all ministries and lower-level central government agencies. Their incumbent employees can thus be challenged and unseated by other applicants if the latter get higher exam grades. The first such contest was held in early October.
Badalian said 27 government vacancies remain open to competition as none of the applicants has met appropriate requirements to fill them. He said the ongoing selection process has exposed, in particular, a lack of competent lawyers and economists in Armenia.
The seven-member Civil Service Council, appointed by President Robert Kocharian in January 2002, is also tasked with assessing the professional fitness and ensuring the independence of the state bureaucracy. But critics say the oversight body itself can not be independent because it was formed by Kocharian without the parliament’s approval.
The efficiency of the civil service is seriously hampered by a lack of safeguards against arbitrary dismissal and rampant corruption. That in turn is seen as a result of extremely low salaries in the sector which now average 22,000 drams ($38) a month. The government will nearly double it starting from next month.
The employees of the State Taxation Service and the Customs Department will become by far the best paid civil servants in Armenia by earning at least 70,000 drams. The government hopes that better pay will reduce the widespread bribery among them.