The pro-government majority in the National Assembly rejected on Monday an opposition proposal to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the origin of assets belonging to senior Armenian officials.
Under the motion put by Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition lawmaker, the parliament would set up an ad hoc commission tasked with investigating possible discrepancies between their salaries and personal wealth. The probe would target not only current but also former state officials that held high-level positions in various state institutions.
Pashinian said that many of them have enriched themselves as a result of corrupt practices. “Why does a 25-year-old state have a budget worth only $2.7 billion?” he said, presenting the motion. “The Republic of Armenia cannot meet its most vital needs. At the same time many Armenian officials are mired in wealth.”
The 131-member parliament refused to even discuss the proposal, with only 39 deputies voting for such a debate. The proposed inquiry was blocked by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), even though it won the backing of all other parliamentary factions.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian, accused Pashinian of merely seeking to exploit the issue to score points ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2. “This can be considered a pre-election motion,” he said. “I would suggest that we leave it to the next National Assembly to address this topic.”
As recently as in December, the Armenian government pushed through the parliament a new law that criminalizes “illegal enrichment” of high-ranking state officials. Government officials have touted it as a major anti-corruption measure.
The law applies to some 600 officials, including ministers and judges, who were already legally obliged to declare their assets to a special state commission. They will now have to also substantiate the origin of their assets if those exceed their annual salaries by at least 5 million drams ($10,500). They would risk up to 6 six years in prison in case of failing to do so.
Opposition politicians have voiced skepticism over the new legislation, saying that it will not make life harder for corrupt officials.
Many senior Armenian officials are believed to be well-to-do individuals despite their relatively modest salaries. The veracity of their income declarations filed with the State Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials has long been questioned by anti-corruption activists and media.