The Armenian government will discuss and likely approve on Thursday a bill curtailing the powers of a financial oversight body that alleged serious misuse of its budgetary funds last year.
The agenda of a weekly cabinet meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian includes draft amendments to an Armenian law regulating the work of the Audit Chamber. They would ban the body subordinate to Armenia’s parliament from making “political evaluations” of financial abuses detected by it. The chamber would also not be allowed to draw conclusions on “legal consequences” of its allegations.
The amendments have been proposed by the Justice Ministry in response to an Audit Chamber report that caused a storm in the Armenian political arena. The report alleged serious fraud in the handling of procurements by various government agencies. The head of the chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, went further, telling the parliament that much of government spending might have 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 and making “political” statements. He went on to call for amendments to the law in question.
The chamber has already voiced objections to the proposed amendments. They are due to be discussed at the cabinet meeting.
The government bill has prompted serious concern from opposition parties presenting the Audit Chamber as further proof of rampant government corruption. “If this bill is enacted the Audit Chamber will become a body merely wasting public funds,” said Armen Martirosian, a leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
“This is how they are going to rein in the Audit Chamber,” agreed Vahagn Khachatrian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). Khachatrian argued that “political evaluation” is an ambiguous term open to differing interpretations.
Varuzhan Hoktanian of the Armenian branch of Transparency International also criticized the proposed measure, saying that it would deter the chamber from exposing serious corrupt practices. “I think this measure reflects the government’s growing authoritarian tendencies,” he claimed.