After making a last-minute concession to its opposition minority, the Armenian parliament unanimously approved on Thursday government plans to set up a new body tasked with combatting corruption in the country.
The Commission on Preventing Corruption will be formed and start functioning early next year. It will scrutinize income and asset declarations to be submitted by over 2,000 senior state officials and investigate possible conflicts of interest or unethical behavior among them. It will be empowered to ask law-enforcement bodies to prosecute officials suspected of engaging in corrupt practices or even making false disclosures.
Members of the commission will be nominated by a special council and appointed by the National Assembly. Each member of the council will in turn be named by the chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court, other senior judges, the human rights ombudsman, the national bar association and the Pubic Council, a presidential advisory body.
The government and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) also agreed during this week’s parliamentary debates to let the parliamentary opposition appoint the sixth member of the council. The opposition Tsarukian Bloc and Yelk alliance will pick that member by consensus.
Deputies representing both opposition groups voted for the bill. “True, this draft is not the draft which we would have liked to see,” Yelk’s parliamentary leader, Nikol Pashinian, said before the vote. “But we believe that this is one step towards creating an anti-corruption body and system reflecting our views.”
As part of the same effort, the parliament also passed another bill that will introduce a “system of whistleblowing” enabling Armenians to report corruption cases known to them. They will be able to anonymously file such reports through a special website.
Armenian civil society representatives have been skeptical about the latest measures taken by the government. They say that the government is still not genuinely committed to tackling corruption.
Deputy parliament speaker Arpine Hovannisian, who drafted both bills in her previous capacity as justice minister, lamented the skepticism. “The body is only just being set up but they are trying to create an atmosphere of mistrust around it,” she said.
Hovannisian admitted at the same time that the measures approved by the parliament will not lead to a “revolution” in the fight against corruption.