By Emil Danielyan and Shakeh Avoyan
Almost two in three Armenians believe that corruption in their country has increased in recent years despite declared government efforts to combat it, according to new research made public on Wednesday.
A nationwide opinion poll conducted by the Armenian affiliate of the Berlin-based Transparency International last August also suggests that Armenia’s leaders and state institutions are perceived to be corrupt by the vast majority of citizens.
Its findings are a damning indictment of a three-year plan of anti-corruption actions that was launched by the Armenian government with the blessing of Western donors in late 2003. The plan was supposed to reduce the scale of bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices.
However, 64 percent of 1,500 families randomly interviewed across the country said those practices have become even more widespread in the past three years. Many respondents said corruption has engulfed new areas of life such as enterprise registration, enforcement of judicial acts, and conduct of elections increasingly characterized by vote buying. Graft is still perceived to be widespread in law-enforcement, tax collection, education and healthcare, the survey shows.
According to the pollsters, 62.5 percent of Armenians consider President Robert Kocharian to be corrupt. Public perception of other senior officials is even more negative, with almost two thirds of those polled describing the Armenian government ministers as “very corrupt.”
That might explain why Armenia continues to fare poorly in Transparency International’s annual surveys of corruption perceptions around the world. Armenia ranked 93rd out of 161 countries covered by the anti-graft watchdog’s most recent Corruption Perception Index released last November.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also made a critical assessment of the results of the Armenian government’s stated anti-corruption drive. An OECD report released on December 18 noted in particular that "the number of convictions for corruption is low, especially for high-ranking officials.”
In a late December interview with RFE/RL, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian admitted that his government’s anti-corruption measures, mainly involving changes to various Armenian laws, “have not been as effective as we hoped.” He said Yerevan will soon ask Western donors to help it draw up a new strategy that will “ascertain mechanisms for putting the [anti-graft] legislative framework into practice.”
Tigran Sarkisian, chairman of the Armenian Central Bank and the only high-ranking official present at the survey’s publication, admitted that corruption is “one of the most serious obstacles to the development of our country.” “That is not a secret to anyone,” he told RFE/RL. Sarkisian insisted that the Armenian authorities are committed to tackling the problem but lack civil society support.
That commitment is strongly questioned by Armenian representatives of Transparency International and local civic groups. “Corruption is a government ideology in Armenia,” said Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee. “What is more, the authorities themselves foster corruption. They do so because officials mired in corruption are much more manageable.”
Respondents were also asked to suggest effective solutions to corruption. The most frequent answer, given by 22.5 percent of them, was free and fair elections.