President Serzh Sarkisian berated his government in unusually strong terms at the weekend for what he described as widespread bribery and nepotism in state procurements administered by various Armenian ministries and other government bodies.
In an uncharacteristically emotional outburst, Sarkisian cited damning findings of an inquiry conducted by the presidential Oversight Service during an extraordinary cabinet meeting. According to the service, procurement contracts are routinely awarded to private firms in violation of an Armenian law that was adopted in late 2010 to prevent corrupt practices and lower the cost of goods and services commissioned by the government.
Sarkisian singled out “kickbacks paid at the expense of the state budget” to officials handling procurement tenders. “In this regard, Tigran, I assess the work of the government very negatively, very negatively,” he told Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in remarks aired by state television and other major TV channels. “I have been frankly talking to you about this for four years, but processes are still going on.”
“Strangely, goods that we purchase through tenders are cheaper in the market. Should anyone be held answerable for that?” he said.
Sarkisian went on to instruct state prosecutors and the National Security Service to investigate the reported abuses and “go after people who take kickbacks and have their cousins win tenders with twice the prices” offered by other potential suppliers. He stressed that the law-enforcement bodies must start the crackdown from high-level officials.
The angry remarks were the most serious criticism of the Armenian prime minister and his cabinet publicly made by Serzh Sarkisian so far. “All of your evaluations are sobering and they obligate us to make substantial changes in our work,” a visibly embarrassed Tigran Sarkisian told the president.
Commenting on the harsh criticism on Monday, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, said it heralds a toughening of the fight against corruption. “All those officials that are stagnant and cannot or do not want to carry out the president’s orders will not work anymore,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a former member of the governing coalition which is now at odds with Tigran Sarkisian, welcomed the criticism. BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said it gave more weight to BHK claims that the premier is incompetent and must be sacked.
For its part, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), dismissed President Sarkisian’s remarks as a “pre-election show in which nobody will believe.” Levon Zurabian, an HAK leader, said Sarkisian thus “exposed the essence” of his administration.
“One gets the impression that after many years of tolerated plunder the leader of the [ruling] gang decided to rage at plunderers led by himself,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).