By Armen Dulian
Armenia again fared better than most other ex-Soviet states but was just a whisker away from being rated as a highly corrupt nation in a closely-watched annual report on corruption around the world released on Wednesday.
Transparency International, a respected graft watchdog, gave it a score of 3.1 out of a possible perfect 10 in its latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) covering 146 countries. Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Madagascar share 82nd place in the rankings based on the extent of corrupt practices perceived by business leaders, academics and risk analysts.
The score represents a 0.1-point improvement over last year’s report that put Armenia in 78th place among 133 states surveyed by the Berlin-based organization. The 3-point mark corresponds to Transparency's benchmark for “rampant corruption.”
Bagrat Yesayan, an official advising President Robert Kocharian anti-corruption initiative, found the assessment rather encouraging. “The comparison with last year’s rankings shows that the situation here has not worsened and has even slightly improved,” he told RFE/RL.
Yesayan also stressed that Armenia continues to be regarded by Transparency International as the second least corrupt member of the Commonwealth of Independent States after Belarus. Its two ex-Soviet neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan, were again rated much more poorly, languishing in 133rd and 140th places respectively.
Transparency’s chairman, Peter Eigen, described Azerbaijan as a typical oil-rich nation where natural wealth is monopolized by an extremely corrupt ruling elite. He called on Western oil companies to provide more information about their dealings with those regimes, the Associated Press reported.
According to Miklos Marschall, the Transparency director for Europe and Central Asia, the situation is markedly different in Georgia where the reform-minded administration of President Mikhail Saakashvili has launched high-profile anti-corruption initiatives since sweeping to power in last November’s “rose revolution.” He said Georgia’s score of 2.0 should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“The only limited good news is Georgia,” Marschall told RFE/RL. “Although Georgia's score is still very low, the explanation for that is that our index is a rolling index, so it measures 3 years of performance, so the changes are not yet reflected in the score.”
“It is very encouraging that Georgia is the first country in the region where a new generation of leaders came to power and they have a very clear plan to clean up the country and to introduce democratic governance and to apply international standards,” he added.
Marschall was, by contrast, highly skeptical about the Armenian government’s declared fight against corruption during a visit to Yerevan last June. He argued that a special anti-corruption body set up by the government earlier this year is likely to be ineffectual because of its strong dependence on the executive.
“There is much talk about corruption but you haven’t seen real cases prosecuted by the appropriate authorities,” he said at the time.