Corruption in the administration of state procurements in Armenia has increased in the last three years despite the government’s stated efforts to tackle the problem, the country’s leading anti-graft watchdog claimed on Friday.
The Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian affiliate of Berlin-based Transparency International, said it has arrived at this conclusion after closely monitoring procurement practices of various central and local government bodies.
Presenting the findings of that monitoring, Artak Manukian, an ACC researcher, said that corruption in this sphere has risen because since 2011 government bodies have increasingly bypassed the State Procurement Agency when choosing private suppliers of various goods and services. “Because of the decentralization and more bodies involved in procurements we can claim that kickbacks [paid to government officials] have increased,” he told reporters.
In Manukian’s words, at least of the procurement contracts are now signed without competitive tenders required by Armenian law. He said this is particularly true for provincial administrations. It is not uncommon for companies linked to provincial governors or town mayors to win such contracts, he added.
An official from the Armenian Finance Ministry attending the presentation refused to comment on the allegations.
The Armenian authorities pledged to crack down on procurement fraud following similar corruption allegations that were made by President Serzh Sarkisian during a cabinet meeting in September 2012. Then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other officials afterwards alleged serious abuses in government-funded construction, purchases of government-subsidized medication as well as food supplies to state-run kindergartens and orphanages. Several senior government officials were sacked as a result.
The issue came to the fore again in June last year when the Armenian parliament’s Audit Chamber presented its annual report to lawmakers. The head of the chamber, Ishkhan Zakarian, claimed that as much as 70 percent of budgetary expenditure in Armenia may be misused or wasted as a result.
The government strongly denied those allegations, with Tigran Sarkisian accusing Zakarian of exaggerating possible financial abuses for political purposes. President Sarkisian sided with the government in the high-profile row. He at the same time instructed government officials to look into the allegations contained in the Audit Chamber report “one by one.”