Fight against corruption in Armenia. A myth or reality?
Photo: Lusi Sargsyan
The fact that corruption is evil and it hinders Armenia’s development is admitted by everyone, be it opposition, NGOs, government and international organizations that provide funds for combating corruption.
This fight is manifested in high-profile revelations, arrests and legislative amendments. However, according to Sona Ayvazyan, Executive Director of Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center (TIAC), that’s hardly enough.
In her words, if those corruption revelations had been accompanied by the arrests not merely in the lower branches of power, then it would have been possible to think that there is a real anti-corruption fight underway: ‘It can’t be regarded as an ongoing fight against corruption, not until the prosecution mechanisms are activated.”
Several cases were solved by the National Security Service within the last month. One of them involved large-scale extortion under the pretext of bribing a judge as part of the criminal case. The matter concerns an attempt to interfere in the proceedings and ensure a favorable verdict to a defendant through the judge. Approximately US$8,000 were demanded in exchange for the aforesaid.
In another criminal case, the materials were prepared on abuse of official powers by a police officer, who, under various pretexts, was dragging the process of restituting the lost military service record card and demanded a bribe amounting to US$200 to allegedly speed up the process.
The National Security Service’s (NSS) report on 3 Armenian universities issuing fake diplomas to the graduates also evoked a wide public response.
However, according to Varuzhan Hoktanian, TIAC Project Director, the aforesaid revelations are not enough to efficiently combat corruption, since anti-corruption fight should start from the top: ‘And to reach that top, we need a political will. But since there is a lack of it, what is actually going on now can be regarded as a show.’
He noted that the NSS recently solved the case in the social welfare field. As a result, several high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, including the Head of Medical and Social Expertise Agency Armen Soghoyan, were arrested. Overall 12 officials were involved in the case.
According to the NSS, when defining the disability degree, Armen Soghoyan-led agency was accepting bribes amounting to AMD 20,000-40,000 (about US$40-80). Certain portion of the amount earned by the medical committee chairmen was regularly transferred to the agency chief, Soghoyan.
Varuzhan Hoktanian reminded that prior to Armen Soghoyan, this position was held by Mikael Vanyan, who was dismissed in October 2012, after some corruption risks had been exposed in his agency. In the expert’s opinion, the preconditions for recurrence of crime are much deeper and punishment is no longer an effective solution:
“If a crime reoccurs in the same agency of the same field, it means that what took place was actually a show rather than a fight against corruption. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be arrested, but that’s hardly enough. What we need is prevention. Punishments are not the only means of combatting corruption.”
Karen Zadoyan, President of the Armenian Young Lawyers Association (AYLA), believes that an independent body should be set up to ensure effective fight against corruption, because the current situation poses ‘a serious threat to national security.’
Armenia has the Anti-Corruption Council, that was set up during former Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan’s term in office and later transferred to the incumbent Premier, Karen Karapetyan. It comprises high-rank officials, including the general prosecutor, justice minister, finance minister, as well as the Anti-Corruption Coalition.
Establishment of the aforesaid Council caused wide public outcry, because it included such high-ranking officials, who, in the opinion of social and political circles, were not far from that process themselves and the number of medial publications and their property declarations testified to that: while they were holding those posts, their family members were setting up huge businesses and, consequently they can’t be fighting corruption. Therefore, experts believe that this fight against corruption is ‘artificial’ to some extent.
On a side note, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, recently stated about inefficiency of the Anti-Corruption Council’s activity. As he pointed out, only 2,5% of the initially intended sum was transferred to the Council’s account, since it hadn’t shown as much progress as expected.
The Armenian authorities assure that the Armenian government spares no efforts to combat corruptio and that the developed strategy is being gradually implemented. According to the Armenian Deputy Justice Minister, Suren Krmoyan, the executive government tries to apply some innovative methods in its fight against corruption:
“We are using our human resources and electronic tools to form possibly transparent and integrated management which will help eliminate the risks of bribe-taking. And there are high risks in such areas as: education, health, police and tax authorities. Consequently, we are targeting these very areas, as a matter of priority.”
There will be no corruption in Armenia when every fourth citizen or his/her family members stops giving bribes, when people start openly discussing problems. On a side note, the public opinion poll in 2016 revealed that 67% of respondents would not have reported corruption cases, if they had witnessed them. Aghasi Tadevosyan, an ethnographer, says the reason lies in the people’s mindset:
“The majority of Armenians, who are involved in a corruption chain, don’t even realize that they are committing a crime. They understand that it’s illegal, but they perceive it as being part of daily relations. They don’t regard it as a bribe, but rather a ‘favor’ and ‘gratitude for one’s help.’ An official, who has helped to settle some issue, is presented gifts, given ‘kickbacks’ and sometimes laid festive tables.”
In the ethnographer’s opinion, the citizens find it easier to solve their problems through corrupt processes rather than though the legal means.
According to the ethnographer, corruption in Armenia should be eradicated from the ‘top’, and this requires political will: ‘The problem will exist as long as people seek power in order to enjoy the fruits of corruption.’