By Hrach Melkumian
A purportedly independent body overseeing Armenia’s state bureaucracy said on Tuesday that it has hired more than 1,350 civil servants and fired about 350 others since its creation more than two years ago.
According to Manvel Badalian, chairman of the State Council on Civil Service, the new employees of various government agencies have been chosen on a competitive basis in accordance with a controversial law that came into effect in 2002. He said some 11,500 people have taken part in job contests for more than 1,600 vacancies administered by the body.
The government-drafted law was enacted with the stated aim of reforming Armenia’s notoriously corrupt and inefficient civil service. It is supposed to protect civil servants against arbitrary dismissal and rid government agencies of incompetent officials.
Critics, however, have argued that verbal interviews that are part of the selection process make it discretionary and open to abuse. They also say that the Badalian’s council itself is not independent because it was handpicked by President Robert Kocharian.
Summarizing its two-year track record at a news conference, Badalian said the council has so far received only six appeals from unsuccessful job applicants and has not reconsidered any of its decisions as a result. He said he has had more trouble dealing with the heads of government agencies trying to thwart the removal of their employees that are found to be incompetent.
“Such persons will be gradually driven out of the public administration as has been the case with 227 civil servants,” Badalian said, adding that they were sacked for failing mandatory qualification tests officially known as “attestations.” He said nearly half of Armenia’s estimated 7,300 civil servants have already faced such attestations.
In Badalian’s words, another 120 government employees have been dismissed because of submitting fraudulent documents, hiding their criminal records or not being Armenian citizens.
Speaking to reporters in September 2003, Badalian admitted that senior Armenian bureaucrats are often less competent than their subordinates. “There are a lot more sound, flexible, informed and competent people in the lower echelons [of government],” he said without naming names.
(RFE/RL photo: Manvel Badalian.)