By Anna Saghabalian
A conference on Wednesday attended by different organizations involved in anti-graft activities marked the beginning of efforts aimed at developing a new strategy to combat corruption in Armenia.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, which organized the conference, said it would implement a program designed to mobilize anti-corruption efforts, in particular targeting initiatives in the provinces.
The Armenian government unveiled in late 2003 and claims to have successfully implemented a three-year plan of actions aimed at tackling bribery and other corrupt practices in the country. However, the impact of the legislative measures taken since then is questioned by many local experts and international anti-graft watchdogs.
According to Gevorg Mherian, an aide to President Robert Kocharian who has led the commission monitoring the implementation of the anti-corruption program, the previous strategy aimed at institutional and legislative reforms has been completely realized according to the conclusions of the body led by him and the Anti-Corruption Council.
“A need has emerged to address the opportunity to develop a new strategy,” he said.
The new strategy, according to Mherian, should primarily aim at creating conditions for implementing anti-corruption measures stemming from the commitments Armenia has assumed under international treaties.
“And we need to define specifically the benchmarks of reducing corruption and steps to be taken to achieve these goals,” he said.
Amalia Kostanian, head of the Berlin-based Transparency International’s Armenian affiliate, the Center for Regional Development, welcomed the decision to draw public organizations in the development of the new anti-corruption strategy, but said the activities of the past years should be given a serious evaluation before starting the development of a new program.
“The donors, the government and the public must ask a question: why aren’t we moving forward, but often go back, despite so much time, money and effort?” she said. “We can’t expect any anti-corruption program to give us a bright future until answers are provided to questions like this.”
Kostanian called the controversial dismissal of Judge Pargev Ohanian in a disciplinary case that was seen by many as retaliation for his sensational verdict acquitting two businessmen an instance that will put off other judges from trying to be unbiased in making their decisions. According to her, the Ohanian case only shows that despite all the reforms Armenia’s judiciary is still not independent.
“The huge work that has been done in terms of reforming the judiciary can be jeopardized by a single step or decision of the authorities, reducing that huge work to nothing in the eyes of the public and the international community,” she said.
A Transparency International global study unveiled in September showed that government corruption in Armenia has not decreased in the past year. The anti-corruption watchdog ranked Armenia 99th among 180 nations covered by its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.