The Armenian government is planning “fundamental” changes in its tax and customs services aimed at tackling corruption among their employees, Prime Minister Karen Karapetian said on Friday.
Karapetian made these assurances at a regular meeting of his Anti-Corruption Council comprising not only government officials but also civil society representatives. Chronic corruption in the State Revenue Committee (SRC) was one of the issues on the meeting’s agenda.
Karen Zadoyan of the Armenian Association of Lawyers presented the findings of a study on “corruption risks” in the SRC and proposed measures to address them.
Armen Sakapetoyan, a deputy chief of the SRC attending the meeting, said some of those proposals are overdue because his agency consisting of the national tax and customs services is already undergoing major reforms.
Karapetian echoed that claim, saying that the new SRC leadership installed by him recently has come up with a more far-reaching “document on corruption risks in the [tax] system.” “Believe me, our intentions regarding changes in the SRC are much tougher, much deeper and much more fundamental,” he said without elaborating.
Corruption within the tax collection agency has long been endemic. Many senior SRC officials are thought to have had extensive business interests because of that.
Vartan Harutiunian, the current SRC chief appointed in October, is a figure close to Karapetian. Harutiunian said in late December that he plans to remove “corrupt and unhealthy elements” from the SRC. He also promised tougher action against tax evasion.
The Anti-Corruption Council also discussed on Friday ways of addressing fraud and inefficiency in the administration of state procurements.Zadoyan said the Armenian Finance Ministry has agreed take at least half of 36 anti-corruption actions in this area that have been recommended by him. Karapetian, for his part, instructed the ministry to present more such measures at the next meeting of the council.
Artak Manukian, an economic expert with Transparency International’s Armenian affiliate, hailed Karapetian’s readiness to cooperate with civic groups in his declared fight against corruption.
“But this doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that things will immediately get better,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It just means that we have an opportunity to improve legislation.”
Manukian cautioned that legislative changes alone will not make a difference unless they are properly enforced by the authorities. “If the law allows you to punish [corrupt officials] but you don’t punish, you will never succeed in improving the procurement process,” he said.