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The Armenian government is committed to implementing the kind of reforms which Western donors believe are critical for Armenia’s sustainable economic development, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said through an aide on Tuesday.

The assurance came in response to a stark warning issued by the World Bank’s managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during a weekend visit to Yerevan. She stated that Armenia can not reach a higher level of development unless its leadership changes the “oligopolistic” structure of the domestic economy, bolsters the rule of law and shows “zero tolerance” of corruption.

“I think you can only go so far with this economic model,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She singled out the need to open up the Armenian economy to “more competition,” alluding to the fact some of its most lucrative sectors have been effectively monopolized by government-connected businessmen.

“The existence of monopolistic manifestations in the Armenian market is not a World Bank discovery,” Aram Ananian, an assistant to Sarkisian, told RFE/RL, reacting to Okonjo-Iweala’s remarks. “The existence of a shadow economy is one of the main causes of those manifestations, and the country’s president and prime minister have both spoken of the need to address the problem.”

Ananian said Prime Minister Sarkisian stood by his view that better tax and customs administration is key to improving the country’s business environment when he met Okonjo-Iweala on Saturday. She assured the premier that the World Bank will provide “unprecedented and serious” assistance to the reform of Armenia’s tax authorities, the official said. Ananian added that the government would specifically like to engage international experts in that endeavor.

Okonjo-Iweala indicated on Sunday that structural reforms and technical assistance from abroad alone would not stamp out corruption among tax and other government officials. “You can deal with the technical issues but what you need is a political will to say, ‘Look, we are going to have zero tolerance of corruption in these areas,’” she told a news conference.
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