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Opposition Fears Government Curbs On Oversight Body


Armenia - Ishkhan Zakarian, head of the Audit Chamber, attends a parliament session in Yerevan, 17Jun2013.

Armenia - Ishkhan Zakarian, head of the Audit Chamber, attends a parliament session in Yerevan, 17Jun2013.

Leading opposition parties expressed concern on Monday about what they described as government plans to curtail powers of a financial oversight body that has alleged serious misuse of budgetary funds Armenia.

The Audit Chamber, which is formally subordinate to Armenia’s parliament, caused a storm in the domestic political arena last month with a report on alleged abuses in the handling of procurements by various government agencies. The head of the chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, went further, saying that much of government spending might has been misused or wasted in recent years.

Those claims prompted an angry response from the government and President Serzh Sarkisian in particular. Sarkisian accused Zakarian of exceeding his legal powers. The president went on to call for amendments to an Armenian law regulating the work of the Audit Chamber at a June 29 meeting of the leadership of his Republican Party (HHK).

Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, who is a senior HHK figure, said after that meeting that the authorities plan to form a “working group” tasked with drafting such amendments. But he did not clarify whether the planned changes will make the Audit Chamber less powerful.

“I believe that the authorities will definitely add restrictive provisions to the law,” said Stepan Safarian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “The authorities need to cover up their dirt that surfaces from time to time and don’t want to again find themselves in this situation.”

“I can see political factors that give us reason to say that Serzh Sarkisian’s administration will opt for weakening the role of the Audit Chamber and restricting its powers,” Safarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Aram Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), agreed. “They want to end the freedom that has been enjoyed by the Audit Chamber,” he said.

Leaders of the HAK and another major opposition group, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, rejected Sarkisian’s harsh criticism of the chamber last week. They said the president’s “instructions” issued to Zakarian violated an article of the Armenian constitution that guarantees the chamber’s independence.
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