By Karine Kalantarian
An aide to President Robert Kocharian claimed on Wednesday that endemic corruption in Armenia has decreased over the past year, disagreeing with domestic and international observers that see little positive change.
“I am convinced that corruption has decreased,” Bagrat Yesayan said, adding that the Armenian authorities’ declared fight against graft is already bearing fruit.
Yesayan, who advises Kocharian on anti-corruption initiatives, cited officials figures showing more government inquiries into suspected corrupt practices and an increased number of officials losing their jobs as a result. According to him, 58 officials at various government agencies were fired last year compared to only five such cases registered in 2003.
It was unclear if any of them held high-level positions.
Yesayan also said that the number of civil servants subjected to disciplinary action for abuse of power and other wrongdoing nearly doubled to 273 in 2004. He said government agencies have grown more conscious of the problem, filing 22 requests for corruption-related criminal investigations with law-enforcement authorities. There was only one such request in 2003, according to the official.
However, the head of a special anti-corruption unit at Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General, Mihran Minasian, claimed the opposite in a recent interview with RFE/RL. “We mainly receive complaints from private individuals,” he said. “But we don’t have complaints from state bodies about corrupt practices within their ranks.”
Apart from advising Kocharian, Yesayan also heads a “monitoring commission” of the special Council on Combating Corruption which the Armenian president set up last summer. The council is tasked with overseeing the implementation of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy unveiled by the government in late 2003.
Many experts, including a regional director of the Transparency International global watchdog, have expressed skepticism about the body, arguing that it is not independent. The skepticism seems to be shared by many ordinary Armenians.
An opinion poll conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) in September found that nearly two thirds of about 2,000 respondents across the country are not familiar with their government’s anti-graft strategy. ACNIS pollsters said only 5 percent of them are confident that it will be successfully implemented.
Armenia fared better than most other ex-Soviet states but remained dangerously close to the threshold for a high degree of corruption in Transparency’s most recent survey of corruption perceptions around the world that was released in October. It ranked 82nd among 146 states surveyed by the Berlin-based organization.
(Photolur photo: Bagrat Yesayan.)