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By Emil Danielyan
Transparency International criticized on Tuesday an aide to President Robert Kocharian for questioning the Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog’s latest global report which suggests that government corruption in Armenia has increased in recent years.

Armenia ranks 88th out of 146 nations that are covered by Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last month. The previous survey, released a year ago, put it in 82nd place.

Bagrat Yesayan, who advises Kocharian on anti-corruption initiatives, cast doubt on the credibility of those studies last week, saying that measuring the scale of corrupt practices is a bad idea in the first place. “Corruption is a phenomenon which is impossible to measure, just as it is impossible to measure love and other phenomena,” he said.

In a letter to Yesayan obtained by RFE/RL, Transparency’s director for Europe and Central Asia, Miklos Marschall, insisted that the situation with corruption in Armenia “does not seem to be improving.” “Honest public discourse about the issue is the right answer to our CPI,” he wrote. “The wrong answer is to sweep the issue of corruption under the rug by trying to discredit our index.”

Marschall defended the methodology of Transparency’s rankings which take account of at least three studies conducted by other Western organizations in a particular country. Those studies, he explained, gauge the perceptions of graft existing among local businessmen and experts.

Transparency International believes that their opinions usually reflect the situation on the ground. “While opinions may from time to time differ from reality, in the long run, the perception of knowledgeable experts who “do business” in Armenia comes very close to reality,” said Marschall.

The latest Transparency report came almost two years after the Armenian government publicized a plan of mainly legislative actions that are meant to reduce the scale of bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices. The government claims to be successfully implementing the program. Yesayan, for example, cited official statistics that show a 15 percent rise in the number of corruption-related crimes identified and solved by the authorities in the first half of 2005. But he refused to identify any of the individuals purportedly punished for corruption.

Meanwhile, the head of the Transparency International office in Yerevan, Amalia Kostanian, dismissed the stated anti-corruption drive as a sham on Monday. She also charged that the Armenian authorities are not committed to tackling the problem in earnest.
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