Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Thursday accused unnamed social security officials of sabotaging an ongoing reform of Armenia’s national pension system that was launched after the disclosure of allegedly corrupt practices in the payment of various social benefits.
Sarkisian blamed them for delays in pension payments that were reported from some communities, notably in the second largest city of Gyumri, earlier this week.
Hundreds of pensioners queued up outside local post offices to receive their modest retirement benefits for July. Officials at the Haypost national postal service, which distributes most of the pensions, told them that they have still not received the lists of pensioners needed for expediting the payments.
Sarkisian apologized to the affected pensioners for the delay at a weekly session of his cabinet. He said he has ordered his Oversight Service and the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to conduct an inquiry.
“We must note that despite radical changes that we have made in this area there is still internal resistance to the introduction of this new system,” Sarkisian told ministers. “For the first time pensions are paid on the basis of an electronic database. Many people don’t like this and they are trying to show that parallel paperwork is necessary for paying pensions.”
“Clearly these corruption risks arose when things were done through the paperwork and carrying out a full oversight [of payments] was extremely difficult,” he said.
The premier did not name any employees of the state pension fund who he thinks are sabotaging the reforms. Dozens of such officials, including the former head of the State Social Security Service (SSSS), Vazgen Khachikian, have been sacked and/or prosecuted in a criminal investigation launched by the Armenian police two years ago.
The investigation followed a report by the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber alleging that thousands of pensioners received, on paper, pensions years after their death. The chamber reported similar fraud in the payment of poverty and disability benefits.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security has since revised lists of Armenians eligible for pensions and other benefits. It says millions of dollars in public funds have been saved as a result.
Sarkisian said Labor Minister Artem Asatrian told him that new financial abuses within the SSSS have been uncovered in the last three months. “There are still people trying to illegally make money with certain old methods,” he said, promising that the government will publicize the new corrupt practices next month.