A senior member of the opposition Yelk alliance on Tuesday welcomed the Armenian government’s plans to set up a new body tasked with tackling corruption in the country.
Under a bill 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.
The new body would not only scrutinize those financial disclosures but also investigate possible conflicts of interest or unethical behavior. It would be empowered to ask law-enforcement bodies to prosecute officials suspected by it of engaging in corrupt practices or even submitting false declarations.
Under the bill, which the Armenian parliament will start debating on Wednesday, the anti-corruption body will consist of five members appointed by the National Assembly for six-year terms. Their candidacies would be submitted by a special council comprising not only government officials but also civil society representatives.
Lena Nazarian, a parliament deputy from Yelk, said she on the whole supports the government initiative and is ready to vote for it despite having some misgivings. In particular, she said, state officials should be required to disclose not only their incomes but also expenditures.
“I think that any bill that gives the opposition and the civil society an instrument to oversee submission of [income] declarations is positive,” Nazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Some civic activists are far more skeptical about the new agency. Daniel Ioannisian of the Union of Informed Citizens predicted that it will not stop corrupt officials from falsely attributing their wealth to their friends or relatives. He also argued that the body will not be allowed to conduct criminal investigations.
Former Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian, who is the main author of the bill, insisted late last week that the anti-graft body will have sufficient powers to prevent many instances of corruption.
The bill was also welcomed by Piotr Switalski, the head of the European Union Delegation in Yerevan. Switalski described it as a “step forward.”
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.