Armenia’s leading anti-graft watchdog on Wednesday voiced fresh concerns about the integrity of state procurements in the country, saying that they remain rife with serious “corruption risks.”
“It’s clear that there is a waste [of public funds.] There are no doubts about that,” said Varuzhan Hoktanian, the director of the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian affiliate of the Berlin-based group Transparency International.
Hoktanian said the ACC has closely examined state procurements administered in 2015 and found that various Armenian government agencies purchased many goods and services at artificially high prices. “The market-based prices are much lower,” he told a news conference.
Artak Manukian, an ACC expert, cited several examples of procurement fraud suspected by the watchdog. In particular, he said, the government purchased alcohol detectors for traffic police for 1 million drams (over $2,000) apiece. Similar devices sold in Russia cost from $60 to $80, he said.
“I don’t know the precise technical parameters of these devices. Maybe [the ones purchased by the Armenian police] are golden,” Manukian noted with sarcasm.
“There were also 30 other risky transactions of this kind,” added the anti-corruption expert.
The ACC conducted a similar study two years ago. It claimed in June 2014 that procurement fraud in Armenia has increased in the last three years despite the government’s stated efforts to tackle the problem.
The government pledged to crack down on the illegal practice in 2012. President Serzh Sarkisian, then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other officials 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.
According to the ACC, last year the government awarded 70 percent of its procurement contracts to private firms without any competitive tenders. “This practice makes systemic corruption inevitable,” said Hoktanian.