By Emil Danielyan
Armenian firms continued to pay bribes to government officials last year at the same rate as in 2002, according to a new World Bank survey which is certain to raise more questions about the Armenian government’s stated anti-corruption drive.
The extensive survey, conducted in 2005 and released late Wednesday, is based on interviews with tens of thousands of businesspeople across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who were asked to assess the scale of corruption affecting them in their respective nations. It found an overall reduction in the amount and frequency of bribes paid by them in the last few years. However, Armenia and several other ex-Soviet states were judged to buck this trend.
“In Armenia, firms reported little change in many indicators of corruption, although the frequency of bribery generally remains below the average for countries of the CIS,” the bank said in a statement. “Increases in bribery are apparent in some areas, such as taxes, customs and the courts, although the levels reported by firms in the previous survey in 2002 were extremely low.”
The study says approximately one third of Armenian companies surveyed, or slightly more than in 2005, said government corruption seriously hampers their operations. But only ten percent of those firms admitted paying various bribes frequently. And those bribes made up only just over one percent of their revenues, according to the survey. The World Bank said that although this ratio has barely changed since its previous corruption survey the rapid growth of the Armenian economy suggests that the “total volume of bribery increased substantially from 2002 to 2005.”
The latest study was conducted about two years after the launch of the Armenian government’s comprehensive anti-corruption plan, endorsed by the World Bank, which was supposed to scale back widespread bribery and other forms of graft in the country. Roger Robinson, head of the bank’s Yerevan office, insisted last November that there has been progress in the implementation of what is essentially a set of legislative measures aimed at complicating corrupt practices.
However, the World Bank survey is clearly more in tune with the position of Armenian non-governmental organizations that say the authorities are doing to little to combat graft. Among them is the Armenian affiliate of Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog.
Transparency International’s 2005 Corruption Perception Index ranked Armenia 88th out of 146 countries surveyed, down from 82nd place it occupied the previous year.