By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian government discussed on Saturday its promised new anti-corruption strategy but declined to specify just how it plans to tackle various forms of widespread graft in the country in the next few years.
The issue dominated a meeting of its special anti-corruption council chaired by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. A government statement said the council discussed the main points of the new strategy and approved a nine-month timetable for drawing up a plan of relevant actions to be implemented from 2008 through 2012. Representatives of civil society and international organizations will also be involved in the effort, the statement said.
An aide to President Robert Kocharian, who heads a separate government commission monitoring implementation of stated anti-corruption measures, was quoted as outlining the planned document at the meeting. The official, Gevorg Mherian, said its main provisions have been worked out in collaboration with officials from the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The government statement gave no further details.
The government had already launched in late 2003 and claims to have successfully implemented a set of mainly legislative measures which were meant to reduce the scale of bribery, nepotism and corrupt practices affecting many Armenians. Although those measures were endorsed by the World Bank and other Western donors, there is little evidence that they have strengthened the rule of law in the country.
The Center for Regional Development (CRD), the Armenian affiliate of the anti-graft group Transparency International, insisted on Saturday that the 2003 program has been “very ineffective.” Amalia Kostanian, the CRD chairwoman who resigned from Mherian’s commission last February in protest against its perceived inactivity, said the new anti-corruption drive will be just as fruitless unless it puts the emphasis on the enforcement of laws and prosecution of corrupt government officials.
“If this is not made clear in the new strategy, we will see more of the same imitation of a fight against corruption,” Kostanian told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian, meanwhile, was quoted by his press office as saying that the fight against corruption can be “very well combined with second-generation reforms” which his cabinet has promised to implement in the coming days. The reforms are supposed to bolster “social justice,” reduce widespread tax evasion and create a level playing field for all businesses. Addressing the council, Sarkisian also stressed the need for a “broad public involvement” in the government’s new anti-graft drive.
According to opinion polls commissioned by Transparency International, most Armenians feel that government corruption has increased in recent years and will become even more rampant in the near future. Armenia ranked 99th out of 180 nations covered in the Berlin-based watchdog’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index released last fall.