Despite skepticism voiced by many civil society figures in Armenia, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has allocated $750,000 to support the implementation of the Armenian government’s latest plan to combat corruption.
The assistance will finance a set of measures stemming from a three-year program which a new anti-corruption council set by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian approved at its first meeting held in July. The council promised at the time sweeping legislative changes meant to complicate corrupt practices among Armenian officials dealing with healthcare, education, tax collection and law enforcement.
The government reaffirmed these “priority areas” in a statement on an agreement signed in Yerevan on Friday by the chief of Abrahamian’s staff, Davit Harutiunian, and Karen Hilliard, the USAID’s mission director for Armenia.
“The funds will be targeting three objectives: establishment of an expert panel to work with the council on the fight against corruption, launch of Armenia’s 2015-2018 anti-corruption strategy and development and implementation of the anticorruption strategy with the stakeholders,” said the statement.
“Those actions and initiatives needed to complete the program will be implemented in the period from February 5, 2016 through April 5, 2017,” it added.
The statement quoted Abrahamian as saying at the ceremony that he “highly appreciates” the U.S. assistance and that his government is really committed to combatting graft. “Bound by common approaches, we need to do everything possible to achieve success,” said the premier.
Successive Armenian governments have pledged to fight against endemic bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices in the past. There has been little evidence, however, of significant improvements in the situation with the rule of law in the country. Hence, widespread skepticism among Armenian civic groups about the seriousness of the current cabinet’s stated intentions.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in August, Hilliard insisted that financing Yerevan’s stated anti-graft effort is a “risk” worth taking. “If the government doesn’t set up an anti-corruption commission, then what is the alternative?” she said.
Richard Mills, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, likewise defended the USAID funding, saying in November that it will be conditional on “measurable achievements.” “If the council does not deliver, our support will end, plain and simple,” he warned in a speech in Yerevan.
Mills said that corruption is taking a “very real toll” on Armenia. “Corruption affects more than just the economy,” he said. “Corruption undermines democracy and rule of law. It breeds instability and mistrust in institutions, and it can threaten a nation’s national security.”
Armenia ranked 95th out of 168 countries evaluated in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released late last month. It was 94th in the 2014 CPI that covered 174 countries and territories.