The governor of Armenia’s southern Ararat province, Garik Sargsian, admitted on Tuesday that he made a mistake in paying himself and his senior staffers lavish bonuses late last month.
Sargsian and two other provincial governors came under fire from media, opposition politicians and even some pro-government lawmakers on Monday after it emerged that they got yearend bonuses roughly equivalent to their monthly salaries.
The Hetq.am publication revealed that Sargsian received the largest payment: 690,000 drams ($1,420). His monthly salary is about 660,000 drams. His senior aides were also paid more than they earn in a single month.
Minister for Local Government Suren Papikian, who supervises provincial administrations, said the bonuses should not have exceeded the salaries. But he defended the two other governors and their subordinates, saying that the extra financial rewards were legal.
“We admit our mistake,” Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. The Ararat governor said that in an effort to make amends he and 14 senior members of his staff have decided to donate a part of their January wages to a low-income family living in the region.
Also expressing concern over the bonuses was Varuzhan Hoktanian, a programs director at the Armenian affiliate of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. He said that some of the rewarded officials were appointed to the provincial administrations just a few months ago and should not have qualified for any bonuses.
Hoktanian also said the payments may fuel suspicions that the officials were rewarded for covertly campaigning for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance in the recent parliamentary elections.
Sargsian, who is a senior member of My Step, ruled out such a possibility. “I don’t think that we committed a criminal act or that there was some corruption scheme at play here.”
Asked whether he had expected the criticism, the governor said: “Not at all because in the past nobody paid attention to what the governors did … We had millionaire governors who probably did not even know whether the plastic cards with their salaries are kept by their children, assistants or mistresses.”