Global Watchdog Skeptical About Armenian Anti-Graft Body

Global Watchdog Skeptical About Armenian Anti-Graft Body
By Ruzanna Stepanian 19/06/2004 01:12

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
June 18 2004

A special body formed recently to coordinate the Armenian government’s
promised fight against endemic corruption is likely to be ineffectual
because of its dependence on the executive branch, a top representative
of the world’s most renowned anti-graft watchdog said Friday.

“What I know about this suggests that it is not an independent body.
We know from the international experience that only independent
bodies can accomplish anything,” Miklos Marschall, Transparency
International’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia,
told RFE/RL.

The Council on Combating Corruption was set up by President
Robert Kocharian on June 2 with the stated aim of overseeing
the implementation of actions stemming from the government’s
anti-corruption strategy unveiled last November. It is headed by
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and comprises Justice Minister
David Harutiunian, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, Central Bank
Chairman Tigran Sarkisian and other high-ranking officials.

Marschall voiced skepticism about the Armenian authorities’ repeated
promises to tackle bribery, favoritism and other rampant corrupt
practices “There is much talk about corruption but you haven’t
seen real cases prosecuted by the appropriate authorities,” he said,
speaking on the sidelines of an international conference on corruption
in the region which was organized by Transparency International.

Marschall argued that if an anti-corruption effort is to be successful
in Armenia it must primarily target the highest echelons of state
power because graft has become an “elite business” in the country
since the Soviet collapse.

No serving senior government officials are known to have been
prosecuted on corruption charges in Armenia in recent years.
According to Kocharian’s anti-corruption aide, Bagrat Yesayan, its
government has finally realized the seriousness of the problem and
is now committed to addressing it in earnest.

The government’s anti-corruption plan contains a long list of mostly
legislative measures which are to be taken in the next three years.
Government critics dismiss the document as a public relations stunt
meant to mislead Western donors. The latter have for years been
pressing Yerevan to take serious action against what they see as a
key obstacle to Armenia’s economic development.

In Transparency International’s most recent global survey of
“corruption perceptions” released last fall, Armenia was ranked 78th
out of 133 countries surveyed, the last one being considered the
most corrupt. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia were rated even more
poorly by the Berlin-based group.