By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government officially presented on Friday its long-awaited plan to combat endemic corruption among various-level state officials and public sector employees which it adopted last November after repeated delays.
The presentation was timed to coincide with a seminar on anti-corruption issues attended by government representatives, law-enforcement officials as well as representatives of local civic groups and international organizations. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other top officials used the occasion to reaffirm their stated commitment to good governance.
The lengthy document published in a state-run newspaper on December 10 calls for a broad range of administrative and legislatives measures to reduce the scale of corrupt practices that have affected virtually every state body. It is divided into several sections dealing with specific areas such as law-enforcement, civil service and government regulation of the economy. Its authors say that graft can be tackled by making the government more transparent and rooting out bureaucratic red tape.
Work on the strategy began in late 2001 and was funded from a $345,000 grant provided by the World Bank. The bank and the International Monetary Fund have endorsed its content, disbursing additional loans to Yerevan late last year.
Addressing the seminar, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian announced that Armenia has formally joined the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) that puts its members under closer international scrutiny. The cooperation mechanism envisages mutual evaluation of GRECO countries’ international anti-corruption commitments.
In a speech to seminar participants, Markarian claimed that his government has already done a lot to boost the rule of law. He pointed in particular to the passage of laws on civil service, state procurements and financial disclosure by senior government officials.
Tigran Torosian, the Armenian parliament’s deputy speaker representing Markarian’s Republican Party, said that the National Assembly will pass more such laws under the anti-corruption plan. “All those laws that are included in the this list of activities will be discussed and certainly passed in time,” he said.
But with bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices continuing unabated, there is widespread public skepticism about the seriousness of the declared government effort. Critics say that none of the laws mentioned by Markarian have had a major impact on the situation with the rule of law.
“We have a problem here,” Bagrat Yesayan, an anti-corruption aide to President Robert Kocharian, admitted in an interview with RFE/RL on Thursday.
The conspicuous wealth of Armenian leaders is still extensively covered by the pro-opposition media that regularly carry pictures of their expensive mansions and luxury cars. This has contrasted with some senior officials’ modest income declarations. The law on financial disclosure does not make them liable for any form of punishment for issuing false financial statements.
Markarian, meanwhile, stressed that the success of the program hinges on the public’s involvement in anti-corruption initiatives. “An intolerant attitude of the public and mass media to that evil is extremely important for us,” he said.
Oskanian echoed the call, saying: “If someone is asked to give a bribe, he must refuse, while being well aware that the law will be on his side. And the individual who demands a bribe must know that he will be punished for that.”
No serving senior government officials are known to have been prosecuted and jailed in Armenia in recent years.