By Ruzanna Stepanian
A special body formed recently to coordinate the Armenian government’s promised fight against endemic corruption is likely to be ineffectual because of its dependence on the executive branch, a top representative of the world’s most renowned anti-graft watchdog said Friday.
“What I know about this suggests that it is not an independent body. We know from the international experience that only independent bodies can accomplish anything,” Miklos Marschall, Transparency International’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, told RFE/RL.
The Council on Combating Corruption was set up by President Robert Kocharian on June 2 with the stated aim of overseeing the implementation of actions stemming from the government’s anti-corruption strategy unveiled last November. It is headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and comprises Justice Minister David Harutiunian, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian and other high-ranking officials.
Marschall voiced skepticism about the Armenian authorities’ repeated promises to tackle bribery, favoritism and other rampant corrupt practices “There is much talk about corruption but you haven’t seen real cases prosecuted by the appropriate authorities,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of an international conference on corruption in the region which was organized by Transparency International.
Marschall argued that if an anti-corruption effort is to be successful in Armenia it must primarily target the highest echelons of state power because graft has become an “elite business” in the country since the Soviet collapse.
No serving senior government officials are known to have been prosecuted on corruption charges in Armenia in recent years. According to Kocharian’s anti-corruption aide, Bagrat Yesayan, its government has finally realized the seriousness of the problem and is now committed to addressing it in earnest.
The government’s anti-corruption plan contains a long list of mostly legislative measures which are to be taken in the next three years. Government critics dismiss the document as a public relations stunt meant to mislead Western donors. The latter have for years been pressing Yerevan to take serious action against what they see as a key obstacle to Armenia’s economic development.
In Transparency International’s most recent global survey of “corruption perceptions” released last fall, Armenia was ranked 78th out of 133 countries surveyed, the last one being considered the most corrupt. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia were rated even more poorly by the Berlin-based group.