Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian downplayed on Friday the dismissal of two of his deputies following corruption allegations made by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
Sarkisian relieved the officials, Tatul Hakobian and Abraham Manukian, of their duties “in accordance with their requests” on Tuesday. In an apparently related development, the chief of the Armenian Health Ministry staff, Gagik Sayadian, resigned two days later.
The premier alleged widespread corruption within the Armenian ministers of agriculture, finance, education and health during a cabinet meeting last week. In particular, he spoke of “corruption manifestations in the healthcare sphere.” He ordered Kushkian to propose a plan of remedying the situation and to expose top ministry officials who are “involved in those practices or are not sufficiently fighting against them.”
“They were dismissed in accordance with their requests,” Kushkian claimed in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I don’t have much of an explanation.”
“Staff changes occur from time to time in all agencies. They just decided to move on to other jobs,” he said.
Kushkian would not be drawn on whether the three men indeed engaged in or abetted any wrongdoing. “I don’t want to directly link [the sackings] with that,” he said, “I would just ask you not to focus on these sackings because that’s not important. What is important is what we are going to do and what we have done in the last three years. Those have been very productive steps.”
In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, Hakobian blamed Kushkian for his resignation. “The health minister has recently taken steps that were totally unacceptable to me,” he told “Zhamanak” daily without elaborating.
Kushkian scoffed at the claim. “Well, I’m a very strict manager, and many people don’t like me because I often punish them for not properly doing their job,” he said.
The minister, who owns one of Armenia’s largest hospitals, also insisted that Hakobian and Manukian lost their jobs not because they, unlike the two other deputy health ministers, are not affiliated with President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK). “It has nothing to do with the party,” he said.
Kushkian, who is a member is the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the HHK’s junior coalition partner, denied any political motives behind the prime minister’s actions.