By Ruzanna Stepanian
An aide to President Robert Kocharian reported on Wednesday a 15 percent rise in the number of corruption-related crimes registered by the Armenian authorities during the first half of this year.
But Bagrat Yesayan, who advises Kocharian on anti-corruption initiatives, cautioned that this is not necessarily a sign of growing government corruption in the country.
According to official figures presented by Yesayan, Armenian law-enforcement authorities identified and solved 227 “corruption crimes” from January through June, up from 198 such cases reported during the same period last year. He said most of those cases involve “embezzlement and waste” of government resources, with two unspecified persons already handed prison sentences on such charges.
An official report cited by Yesayan says five other individuals were prosecuted for accepting bribes. However, nobody was held accountable for giving bribes, according to the report.
The presidential adviser refused to identify any of the individuals reportedly punished for corruption. No senior government officials are known to have been sacked and prosecuted this year.
Yesayan also stressed that the figures do not automatically mean that there were more instances of bribery and other corrupt practices in Armenia this year than in the past. “You may interpret this as a rise in corruption, while I may see a rise in the number of corruption-related crimes solved by the authorities,” he told a news conference. “I think this is a quite positive phenomenon.”
The official statistics comes on the heels of the latest report by the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International which suggests that corruption in Armenia has increased over the past year. Armenia slumped from 82nd to 88th place in Transparency’s annual rankings of corruption perceptions in 146 nations around the world.
But Yesayan cast doubt on the credibility of the closely-watched study. “Corruption is not a bunch of potatoes which you can measure and say whether it has increased or decreased,” he said. “Corruption is a phenomenon which is impossible to measure, just as it is impossible to measure love and other phenomena.”
Still, the Transparency International report will at least raise questions about the implementation of an anti-corruption program launched by the Armenian authorities two years ago. The process is supposed to be overseen by a special Council on Combating Corruption which was formed by Kocharian last year.
That body in turn formed a “monitoring commission” tasked with assess progress of the effort. The commission is headed by Yesayan.