The U.S. State Department has described “systemic corruption” as one of the most frequent and serious forms of human rights violation in Armenia, saying that the authorities in Yerevan are not doing enough to tackle it.
“Allegations of persistent corruption at all levels of government undermined the rule of law, although the government took limited steps to punish corruption by low- and mid-level officials,” the State Department said on Thursday in its latest annual report on human rights practices around the world.
“There were numerous reports of systemic government corruption, including in such activities as urban maintenance, construction, public administration, the judiciary, state procurement and auctions, health care, taxation, law enforcement bodies, and military personnel,” reads the report. “There were reports of embezzlement of state funds, involvement of government officials in questionable business activities, and tax privileges for government-linked companies.”
These corrupt practices are a “significant” hurdle to Armenia’s sustainable economic development, says the report. “In the view of many observers, oligarchs linked to the government or holding government posts monopolized the economy,” it adds.
Commenting on these claims on Friday, a senior lawmaker representing the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) admitted that corrupt remains a “serious problem” in Armenia. But Hovannes Sahakian insisted that the government is committed to combatting it.
“We must draw a red line and not allow corrupt officials and their relatives to thrive among us,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The government pledged to reinvigorate its stated fight against corruption in February when it announced plans to set up a new Anti-Corruption Council that will be headed by Prime Minister Abrahamian and comprise several ministers and other top state officials. It also urged the political parties represented in the Armenian parliament and civic groups to nominate their representatives to the council.
None of those groups expressed readiness to join the body. Local anti-graft watchdogs like the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), which operates as the Armenian branch of Transparency International, are highly skeptical about the government assurances.
“We don’t see a genuine process of combatting corruption,” Sona Ayvazian, the ACC’s deputy director, insisted on Friday. “We don’t even expect that something can change in this environment of [government] inactivity.”
Armenia ranked, along with four African states, 94th of 174 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last December. It occupied the same position in the 2013 CPI which covered 177 nations.