U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills on Tuesday renewed his calls for the Armenian authorities to fight against endemic corruption in Armenia, saying that it hampers economic development and democratization.
“I must be frank with our Armenian friends about the very real toll that corruption exacts on Armenia. I hear about that toll from potential U.S. business investors and from average Armenians as I travel the country,” he said in a speech delivered at the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia.
Mills argued that corruption “limits economic growth” by undermining competition and translating into “powerful interests that have disproportionate economic and political influence.” “The whole economy -- indeed the whole country -- suffers,” he said. “Foreign businesses vote with their investment dollars; if they see a country suffering the ills of corruption they either don’t invest at all, or may decide to pull their money out.”
“But corruption affects more than just the economy,” the envoy went on. “Corruption undermines democracy and rule of law. It breeds instability and mistrust in institutions, and it can threaten a nation’s national security.”
Mills already stressed the need for a genuine government fight against corrupt practices and warned of their impact on Armenia’s national security when he was interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in September. The remarks prompted an angry response from Vahram Baghdasarian, a leading member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party. Baghdasarian accused Mills of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Opposition lawmakers and pro-Western pundits dismissed Baghdasarian’s claims. The Armenian government, for its part, refrained from officially responding to the U.S. ambassador.
Armenia ranked 94th of 174 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last year. Successive Armenian governments have pledged to tackle the problem in earnest.
The current government vowed to step up its declared fight against graft in July as Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian chaired the first meeting of his newly formed anti-graft council. The council approved a plan of mostly legislative actions meant to complicate corrupt practices among officials dealing with healthcare, education, tax collection and law enforcement. Officials said that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is ready to provide the bulk of $750,000 needed for the program’s implementation.
Mills defended on Tuesday the promised U.S. assistance to the government body, saying that it will be contingent on “measurable achievements.” “If the council does not deliver, our support will end, plain and simple,” he warned.