The government has decided to significantly toughen its fight against endemic corruption in Armenia and is ready to work together with major opposition groups in that effort, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said on Thursday.
“The existing situation in Armenia -- in the area of corruption in particular -- does not satisfy us,” Sarkisian told a weekly session of his cabinet. “The president of the republic is demanding resolute actions, including the use of surgical methods, so that we can effect changes that are tangible and visible.”
“In order to achieve success in this area, I think we should substantially step up cooperation with civil society … I think it would also be right to invite opposition parties to cooperate with us and become involved in this work,” he said.
The announcement followed a series of corruption inquiries ordered by the Armenian authorities in recent weeks. The crackdown was in turn launched after a September 15 government meeting during which President Serzh Sarkisian denounced what he called widespread corruption in the administration of state procurements and ordered law-enforcement bodies to investigate it.
Several senior government officials were sacked in the following weeks amid criminal proceedings launched by the Armenian police. Prime Minister Sarkisian and various state bodies alleged serious abuses in construction work commissioned by the government, purchases of government-subsidized medication as well as food supplies to state-run kindergartens and orphanages.
Opposition leaders and other government critics have dismissed the crackdown as a publicity stunt aimed at boosting President Sarkisian’s reelection chances in a presidential ballot due in February. Government officials and the ruling Republican Party deny this.
In Tigran Sarkisian’s words, the government would like civic and opposition groups to join in the declared campaign through an anti-corruption council headed by the prime minister. He expressed hope that their representatives will attend the council’s next meeting slated for Saturday.
The government was quick to send corresponding invitations to Armenia’s main opposition parties later in the day. Two of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, accepted the invitations.
“We welcome any step towards fighting against corruption, even a belated one,” said Hovsep Khurshudian, the Zharangutyun spokesman.
Aghvan Vartanian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, was more skeptical, saying that his party will send one of its senior members to Saturday’s meeting only “out of courtesy.” “This anti-corruption council existing for almost ten years has never been known for its effectiveness and we pin no hopes on it,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The more radical Armenian National Congress (HAK) rejected the government offer out of hand, saying that it will boycott “this theatrical show and cheap deceit.” In a statement, the opposition bloc charged that Armenia’s political leaders, including Tigran Sarkisian, are themselves corrupt and therefore disinterested in tackling the problem in earnest. The HAK said corruption will remain widespread until Armenia gets a “legitimate authority.”
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which was part of the government until June, was also invited to participate in the work of the anti-graft body. BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the party is considering the offer.
President Sarkisian has pledged to combat bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices throughout his rule. Local and international anti-graft watchdogs have reported few improvements so far, however.
Armenia occupied a lowly 129th place in Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 183 countries. It ranked 123rd of 178 nations surveyed in 2010.