By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian authorities suggested at the weekend a new avenue of dialogue with the opposition, urging it join in their declared efforts to curb endemic government corruption. Opposition leaders, however, were quick to dismiss the offer as mere window-dressing.
The special Council on Combating Corruption, set up by President Robert Kocharian last month, held its first meeting on Friday. It decided among other things to form a “monitoring commission” tasked with studying the problem in detail and making relevant proposals. All political groups represented in parliament, including the opposition Artarutyun alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK), were each given a seat in the commission.
“The opposition forces are given a chance to send their representatives to this monitoring commission and demonstrate with their work that the authorities are unwilling to conduct a real fight against corruption,” Bagrat Yesayan, its chairman and an anti-corruption aide to Kocharian, told RFE/RL. “Refusal to join this effort would mean again plunging into populism.”
But the AMK’s outspoken leader, Artashes Geghamian, described the whole undertaking as a “farce,” repeating the opposition claims that Armenia’s leaders themselves are mired in bribery and other corrupt practices. “They should stop misleading the people,” he said. “The fight against corruption must begin from regime change because the persons accused of sponsoring corruption will never bite the hand that feeds them.”
Geghamian pointed to the government’s unrepentant response to two recent parliamentary reports alleging a serious misuse of two World Bank loans worth $35 million. The loans were meant for reforming Armenia’s run-down network of drinking water supplies and judicial system. The government has rejected the reports as untrue and unprofessional.
A similar reaction is expected from Artarutyun which has yet to consider the government offer. “It looks as though the government wants to fight against itself,” one of its leaders, Shavarsh Kocharian, said mockingly.
The stated aim of the Council, headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, is to oversee the implementation of actions stemming from the government’s strategy of tackling graft unveiled last November under pressure from the World Bank and other Western donors. According to Yesayan, its “monitoring commission” will focus on “pre-emptive measures” that would promote better governance and the rule of law. Members of local non-governmental organizations, including the Armenian affiliate of the Transparency International, the world’s most renowned anti-graft watchdog, will also sit on the commission.
Speaking to RFE/RL on June 18, Transparency International’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, Miklos Marschall, predicted that the Markarian-led council is likely to be ineffectual because it is not independent. He also expressed skepticism about the broader anti-corruption campaign declared by Yerevan.
“There is much talk about corruption but you haven’t seen real cases prosecuted by the appropriate authorities,” Marschall said.
(Photolur photo: Bagrat Yesayan.)