Sarkisian attacked the ministers of agriculture, finance, education and health as he discussed the findings of internal inquiries conducted by his Oversight Service. His first target was the Agriculture Ministry and, in particular, its food safety and licensing divisions.
“Such a work style can not be tolerated anymore,” he told Agriculture Minister Gerasim Alaverdian at a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “The minister has already dismissed the head of the licensing department and am assigning you, Mr. Minister, to also solve the issue of the head of the sanitary inspectorate.”
Sarkisian also decried “extremely serious shortcomings” in the implementation of a government scheme to provide interest-free loans to farmers in Armenia’s remote border villages. He did not specify the alleged abuses.
“Relevant entities have failed to properly perform their duties,” he said, referring to not only to the Agriculture Ministry but also a department at the Finance Ministry. He gave Finance Minister Tigran Davtian until the next of next week to propose “personnel solutions” and “structural changes” in the department.
“I’ve always said that such problems exist in food sanitation, and I have told the prime minister and the president about that,” Alaverdian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service afterwards. He said he is now working on a “mechanism for a final solution to these problems.”
Education Minister Armen Ashotian was told to present “a clear and understandable plan of actions” against “corrupt practices in the education system” within the next ten days. “That should also involve personnel changes, Mr. Ashotian,” the premier said. He demanded a similar plan from Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian.
Ashotian admitted the existence of “numerous manifestations of corruption” in schools and universities. “Unfortunately, legal instruments are either not enforced properly or are too weak and do not allow the ministry and other agencies to take more drastic steps,” he told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian stopped short of demanding criminal proceedings against ministry officials who he said have engaged in corrupt practices or broke the law otherwise. He warned only that he “will resort to more drastic actions if the situation is not rectified.”
It was not the first time that Sarkisian embarrassed his cabinet members in front of journalists. Earlier this year, he harshly criticized the State Revenue Committee and its controversial head, Gagik Khachatrian. The criticism did not lead to any major sackings within the tax collection agency that has long been facing corruption allegations from the media and government critics.
Sarkisian described widespread government corruption as Armenia’s “number one problem” and pledged to crack down on it shortly after being appointed as prime minister in April 2008. There are few indications that the scale of the problem has decreased since then, however.
Armenia ranked only 123rd out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last week.