A senior diplomat from the European Union welcomed at the weekend the Armenian government’s decision to set up a new body tasked with tackling endemic corruption in the country.
Under a package of bills approved by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s cabinet on Thursday, the body is to prevent and detect corrupt practices among Armenian officials. It will be created on the basis of the existing State Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials.
The commission receives income and asset declarations from Armenia’s 600 most high-ranking state officials, including ministers and judges. It has until now lacked the legal authority to check the veracity of those statements questioned by anti-corruption activists and media.
“For quite some time the European Union and me personally have been encouraging the creation of such a [new] body,” said Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation. “We therefore welcome this move and the drafting of the government bill because we believe this is a step forward,” he told reporters.
Switalski stressed that the new anti-graft agency will have to be independent if it is to achieve the objectives declared by the Armenian government. “We will judge the independence of this body from its actions,” he said. “We will see how it works.”
Representatives of a coalition of Armenia’s non-governmental anti-corruption watchdogs have already voiced serious misgivings about the government initiative.They say that the government largely ignored their proposals and recommendations when it drafted the bills that will be debated by the parliament soon.
Armenia ranked, together with Bolivia and Vietnam, 113th out of 176 countries evaluated in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index released in January. In its policy program unveiled in October, Karapetian’s cabinet described corruption as “the biggest obstacle to the development of the state.”
The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, suggested earlier this year that the authorities in Yerevan set up a “fully independent anti-corruption body that can both investigate and prosecute cases.” The new body planned by them will have no such powers.