By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian government will finally adopt and unveil next week its long-awaited plan to combat rampant corruption, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian announced on Friday.
The announcement followed a meeting of the government’s anti-corruption task force that approved the final version of the document amended in recent weeks at the insistence of Markarian’s junior coalition partners, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The premier was quoted by his press service as telling the body that it will be discussed at the next cabinet meeting on Thursday and then sent to Western diplomatic missions and lending agencies that have long been pressing Yerevan to tackle the grave problem in earnest.
One of those institutions, the World Bank, has sponsored work on the anti-graft strategy which a team of government experts began two years ago. But publication of its results has since been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about use of the $345,000 grant. The World Bank and another key donor, the International Monetary Fund, have signaled their unhappiness with the delay, indicating that the authorities in Yerevan should make public their vision of improving governance before the end of this year if they are to get more loans.
The success of the promised government crackdown on bribery, nepotism and other widespread corrupt practices was further thrown into doubt last month when Dashnaktsutyun leaders criticized the anti-graft strategy of the government experts handpicked by Markarian and his Republican Party (HHK). Dashnaktsutyun’s Armen Rustamian even hinted that the World Bank money may have been misused by them.
The still undisclosed document appears to have undergone major changes since then and, according to Markarian, is now supported by all three coalition parties. Dashnaktsutyun spokesman Gegham Manukian confirmed this. “We have made numerous proposals and a large part of them has been accepted,” he told RFE/RL.
Manukian also said his party still hopes to create a new government body with sweeping powers to investigate agencies or officials suspected of wrongdoing. The idea is opposed by the HHK and the third coalition partner, the Orinats Yerkir Party.
President Robert Kocharian also seems lukewarm towards it. He instead appointed a senior Dashnaktsutyun member as his special anti-corruption adviser on September 11.
The Armenian opposition, meanwhile, is highly skeptical about the seriousness of repeated government promises of improved governance. It says corruption is one of the pillars of Armenia’s oligarchic political order that came to light during this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections tainted with serious fraud.
“The godfathers of corruption in the Republic of Armenia are Robert Kocharian and [Defense Minister] Serzh Sarkisian,” one of its outspoken leaders, Artashes Geghamian, charged in a speech on Friday. “Subject them to anathema and bribes will disappear.”
The authorities may counter such allegations by citing the findings of the latest global survey conducted by Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog. Its 2003 Corruption Perception Index, released earlier this month, suggests a certain reduction in government corruption in Armenia, rating it among the least corrupt former Soviet republics. Armenia placed 78th in Transparency’s rankings of 133 countries -- much higher than neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan that share 124th place.
All nations surveyed were evaluated on a 10-point scale where 10.0 is the highest score indicating the absence of graft among politicians and public officials. Armenia scored 3.0, up from 2.5 points it received in 2000. Transparency’s Armenian representatives downplay the positive shift, though, arguing that Armenia still lags far behind the Western and even some Eastern European countries.