By Anna Saghabalian
The Armenian authorities have identified and investigated no instances of bribery among officers of Yerevan’s reputedly corrupt traffic police since the beginning of last year, a senior official said on Friday.
According to Markar Ohanian, head of the road policing unit of the Armenian capital’s police department, none of his subordinates was caught red-handed extorting cash from delinquent or innocent drives in 2003 and during the first eight months of this year. He said only two officers have been fired for unspecified wrongdoing.
Ohanian also said a recent inspection of the often chaotic traffic in Yerevan by the oversight service of President Robert Kocharian found no major violations by the police. “I am very grateful to such high-level bodies for their interference in the enforcement of traffic rules,” he told a news conference.
The absence of officially detected bribery cases masks a different reality to which most Armenian motorists have grown accustomed since Soviet years. Bribing police to avoid legal punishment for a real or imaginary violation of traffic rules remains commonplace, with kickbacks typically varying from 1,000 drams ($2) to 5,000 drams. The resulting low cost of impunity seems a key reason for the widespread disregard of traffic rules in Yerevan and other parts of Armenia.
The last major government crackdown on one of the most palpable forms of corruption in Armenia was reported in late 2002, with a group of junior police officers losing their jobs as a result. Punishment of more senior officers, who are believed to be the principal recipients of
road bribes, has been even more rare.
Ohanian admitted that “mistakes” are committed by his men whose average monthly salary is 30,000 drams ($58), but claimed that their performance and integrity are steadily improving. “We go abroad, see the world and want our country to be like France or Austria. But it takes time,” he said.
The Yerevan police have reported 324 road accidents in Yerevan since the beginning of this year, up from 278 such cases registered during the same period in 2003. The accidents killed 47 killed and wounded 388 others.