The head of an Armenian agency administering state procurements was sacked on Thursday just days after President Serzh Sarkisian denounced what he described as widespread corruption in the purchase of goods and services commissioned by the government.
Hakob Beglarian, head of the government Center to Support Procurements, was fired immediately after a cabinet meeting that discussed Sarkisian’s harsh criticism of the government’s handling of procurements.
The president discussed with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and government ministers the findings of an inquiry conducted by the presidential Oversight Service at an extraordinary meeting on Saturday. According to the service, procurement contracts in Armenia are routinely awarded to private firms as result of bribery and nepotism. Serzh Sarkisian lambasted the government for failing to prevent the corrupt practices which he said have cost the state millions of dollars in losses.
Finance Minister Vache Gabrielian recommended Beglarian’s dismissal on Thursday as he presented his ministry’s response to the embarrassing criticism at a regular cabinet session chaired by Tigran Sarkisian. He said Beglarian’s deputy and all other senior officials should also be fired for the “numerous problems and shortcomings” in their area of responsibility.
Prime Minister Sarkisian backed the proposed ousters, instructing his staff to prepare relevant decrees. Only Beglarian’s sacking was announced by his press office in the following hours.
The sacked official is the brother of the controversial Transport and Communications Minister Gagik Beglarian.
Gabrielian also reported serious abuses in the purchase of government-subsidized drugs for public hospitals and other medical institutions. He said the Ministry of Finance intervened last year to annul a dubious tender organized by a Ministry of Health agency handling such procurements. Almost 500 million drams ($1.2 million) in budgetary funds were saved as s result, he said.
That agency was headed until this week by Health Minister Derenik Dumanian’s son Gurgen. The latter was appointed as chief of the Armenian parliament’s staff on September 15.
Tigran Sarkisian named an interim head of the drug agency later on Tuesday. It was not clear if he will recommend any punishment for Gurgen Dumanian. He told ministers that “from now on you will be personally responsible for all procurements.”
The premier reacted angrily after Urban Development Minister Samvel Tadevosian said that a construction company chosen in a supposedly competitive tender mishandled a 700 million-dram contract to refurbish a Yerevan building housing the Armenian National Library. “A considerable part of that work needs to be redone,” Tadevosian told the cabinet.
“This is simply a disgrace,” countered Prime Minister Sarkisian. He instructed his staff to scrutinize all government-funded construction projects and submit its findings to law-enforcement bodies.
President Sarkisian likewise told the National Security Service (NSS) on Saturday to “go after people who take kickbacks and have their cousins win tenders with twice the prices” offered by other potential suppliers.
Opposition groups and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) in particular have dismissed Sarkisian’s angry outburst as a public relations stunt. Vahagn Khachatrian, a senior HAK figure, was equally scathing about the first sackings announced by the government. He said the government’s resignation would be “much more logical.”
“The underlying problem is not being solved,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The system is not being changed.”