More than 10,000 names have been removed from Armenia’s nationwide lists of pensioners since the government began investigating last year alleged fraud in the payment of social benefits, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artur Grigorian said on Tuesday.
Grigorian’s ministry was ordered to start a complete revision of those lists in January 2011 after the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber alleged that thousands of pensioners received, on paper, pensions years after their death.
The chamber implicitly claimed that that this money was pocketed by officials from the state pension fund subordinate to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The head of the fund, Vazgen Khachikian, was sacked in December 2010.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General found these claims credible in May, assigning the Armenian police to open a criminal case. One pension fund official was arrested and more than 20 years named suspects in an ensuing police inquiry. Khachikian, who is a well-known member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, is not among them.
According to Grigorian, the number of Armenians eligible for pensions has since been lowered from roughly 520,000 to 509,000. He said the revision, carried out simultaneously with an ongoing creation of an integrated national database of pensioners, has also revealed that many other elderly people have received two pensions at a time.
“There were people who were assigned pensions by the State Social Security Service and the Defense Ministry or the police and for years received double pensions. The new database will prevent such a thing,” the minister told a news conference. He said the new computerized pension registry will be completed by July.
Grigorian estimated last summer that the crackdown on the alleged pension scam will save 7 billion drams ($18 million) in public funds in 2011 alone.
The average monthly pension in Armenia currently stands at a modest 31,300 drams. The sum is equivalent to less than 27 percent of the country’s official average wage.