Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian warned on Thursday government officials handling infrastructure projects financed by Armenia’s foreign donors to avoid misappropriating public funds or face prosecution.
The warning was addressed to the heads of the Armenian government’s ad hoc “project implementation units” (PIUs) that spend foreign loans earmarked for the construction of roads, schools and other public infrastructure.
Abrahamian said that earlier this week he met those officials and told them to “refrain from any manifestations of corruption.” “Or else, they would be not only dismissed but I will also see to it that they are subjected to strict punishment in accordance with the law,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
“For years large-scale [capital] investments have been made in the country through the PIUs. But as a rule, there has been more talk of corruption scandals and abuses than the work carried out by them,” complained the premier.
Many of those abuses have been alleged by the Audit Chamber, a parliamentary body tasked with verifying the proper use of budgetary funds.
Abrahamian warned the officials following his pledges to reinvigorate the Armenian government’s stated efforts to combat corruption. The government announced in February plans to set up a new Anti-Corruption Council (ACC) that will be headed by Abrahamian and comprise several ministers and other top state officials. It also urged the political parties represented in the Armenian parliament and civic groups to nominate their representatives to the council by May 13.
A senior official from Abrahamian’s staff said on Thursday that no non-governmental organization has shown an interest in the ACC yet. This fact reflects widespread skepticism among Armenian civic activists about the seriousness of the government’s new anti-graft drive. They have for years said that the authorities in Yerevan are not interested in tackling corruption because they themselves have benefited from it.
Karen Zadoyan of the Armenian Association of Young Lawyers said his group will not join the ACC because it will be dominated by senior government officials. “Such a body cannot be independent and effective,” he said.
The Yerevan-based Center for Freedom of Information has also decided to shun the ACC. Its chairwoman, Shushan Doydoyan, said she sees “few possibilities of fair decisions” by Abrahamian’s council.
“They will execute orders issued from above,” she said. “So I doubt that this council can act against any senior official.”
Both Doydoyan and Zadoyan argued that Armenian officials have rarely been prosecuted for bribery, embezzlement and other corrupt practices despite anti-corruption campaigns periodically announced by the authorities.