Sunday, 21 July

The Candidates Speak Out on Corruption

When it comes to the platforms of the presidential candidates, waging a struggle against corruption is an issue that takes center stage. Both in their platform and public pronouncements the candidates have underlined the fact that implementing an anti-corruption campaign is one of the primary components of the domestic political agenda.

Given that this is an extensive topic that is constantly being broached in the public relations blitz - at meetings, events, interviews and elsewhere, we’ll only focus on those clauses in their election platforms where the candidates touch upon the theme of corruption.

Naturally, opposition candidates or those who purport to be such, speak about the corruption of the present regime when reflecting upon the matter at hand.

Aram Harutyunyan, in his platform, underlines that, “The imperfection of economic politics, its non-systematized state, create the foundations for economic crimes and corruption within governmental structures. As a result of economic and legal reforms a new state of affairs will come into being which will safeguard society form a strong anti-corruption base and which will transform corruption into an issue for all segments of society to tackle.”

Vazgen Manukyan, speaks of ‘all-embracing changes’ to societal relations after the fall of the Soviet Union in his platform, one of which is the spread of corruption.

“After the adoption of the Constitution due to the operating clan relations election riggings’ system became common. Phenomena discriminating dignity of our people such as electoral bribes and political corruption penetrated into the public life. That was the price for clan relations - relations too far from free market principles. Power nomenclature penetrated into almost all spheres of public life.”

Vazgen Manukyan proposes the application of the post-Soviet Estonian experiment as an avenue to fight corruption according to which, “Relations with governmental bodies takes place by means of virtual, on-line communication (business registration, tax reporting, licensing, etc).”

Artur Baghdasaryan 
also speaks about the need to decrease the contacts between the taxpayer and the government. In his platform he stresses the need to prevent corruption existing in the political, institutional, socio-economic educational and other spheres and to wage an unceasing struggle against it.

Vahan Hovhannesyan, candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-D) declared that, “If elected President of Armenia I guarantee, a healthy moral/psychological societal environment, social justice and tranquility, the establishment of fully fledged social law and order, the removal of immunity before the law, the correct and impartial selection of personnel, a real struggle against corruption, a just and incorruptible judicial system, the decriminalization and decommercialization of the political system, the separation of the political and business upper echelons.”

These lines, in addition to other promises made by ARF stalwarts and their incomprehensible strategy of ‘not part of the ruling regime, not part of the opposition’, at the very least gives rise to some doubt. The ARF-D has been a part of the ruling government since 2003 and they’ve held a number of ministerial posts including that of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and it’s no secret that the social sector is one of the most corrupted spheres in our country. Now we are presented with the scenario that a candidate of a party that has governed over that sector for 5 straight years ‘guarantees social justice’ if elected president.

Serzh Sargsyan, the current Prime Minister, has also made promises to struggle against corruption. This presidential candidate has been a member of the ruling Republican Party Of Armenia (RPA) since 2006 and Prime Minister since 2007. It follows then that both he and his party are primarily responsible for the current manifestations of corruption that they are now promising to vanquish.

Here are some of the passages in Sargsyan’s pre-election platform that deal with the issue of corruption:

“Corruption, the shadow economy and unequal competitive conditions. The resolution of these issues is in the area of effective administration, and requires decisive change of administration technologies, measures and methods. One of the key issues of our policy will be efficiently and consistently struggling against bribery and corruption.”

“Overcoming corruption requires overcoming a problem more complex than just preventing bribery and tax evasion. We will strive for a new Armenian mindset that will not tolerate the phenomenon of corruption. Personal contacts must not be the basis of our system and whoever promotes bribery will not be considered as a comrade, friend or fellow party member but as a law breaker.”

By stating this, Sargsyan is essentially confirming the fact that in today’s Armenia corruption is widespread and systematic in nature. The Prime Minister understandably skirts the issue as to why corruption has reached such unprecedented proportions and continues to increase. He merely writes about how to struggle against it. Like Vazgen Manukyan, Sargsyan also points to the benefits of virtual contacts between taxpayers and the government. 

“We would develop programs and introduce an electronic governance system which would enable the provision of public administration services via the Internet in public administration and local self-governance institutions. This would speed up service for citizens reduce risks of corruption.”

Simply stated, before writing and speaking about waging a struggle against corruption, the candidates of the ARF-D and the RPA, who hold the levers of government, should have initially reflected on the reasons for the spread of corruption, if not in their platforms than at least in their public pronouncements. They should have discussed what extensive anti-corruption campaign they have implemented, or more correctly haven’t implemented, during the past five years rather than making election campaign promises to do so. When evaluating their activities while in power they remain silent as to these and other failings.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia’s first President and current candidate for the same post, stated at a public rally held on November 16, 2007 that,

“After all of this, we quite understandably expect to face a legitimate question: weren’t there any corrupt ministers, or abusers of official position, or any other illegalities committed under the former authorities? Of course there were - how could they be avoided? These phenomena exist in all societies, even the most law-abiding. These faults have accompanied humanity ever since the first state was established, and shall always exist in one form or another. But it is one thing to deal with isolated phenomena, individual transgressions, and quite another with group or organized crime. Figuratively speaking, it’s the difference between a lone prostitute and a house of prostitution, or an individual thief and a gang. Even the Criminal Code establishes different penalties for these - mild for the former, and far heavier for the latter. The former leadership, operating in conditions of war, an energy crisis, and economic shock therapy, did all they could to fight against these phenomena. And if we failed in our task, the current authorities, who had neither the desire, nor the Christian grace to forgive us, should have continued the fight.”

In his actual pre-election platform Ter-Petrosyan continues his critique of the current regime when speaking about corruption,

“Although the grave socio-economic conditions in Armenia are caused, in part, by objective factors, namely the blockades, the consistent increase in world oil prices, and the continuing decline in the exchange rate of the dollar, their principal cause is connected to bad governance, the misguided economic policies of the current authorities, and rampant corruption, which is systemic in nature and run by those at the top of the regime.

This exploitation and robbery of the people takes place not only through a system of organized and opaque mechanisms, but also through outright crime at the state level, such as the disappearance of the revenues for the gas supplied by HayRusGasArd, the manipulation of statistics concerning imported gasoline and Kazakh gas, and illegal transactions on mines, reserve land, land plots in urban zones, and the privatization of public property.”

In his platform Ter-Petrosyan states in his platform that in order to,

“ Restore the rule of law, by strengthening the judicial foundations of the State and improving the moral and psychological climate in the country” the following urgent measures are called for - “Fiercely combating corruption, abuse of official position, bribery, extortion, statistical fraud, and criminal activity, including economic crime”

Artashes Geghamyan, leader of the National Unity Party, devotes a separate chapter to the issue of corruption in his ‘Program of Creation’ where he criticized the current leadership while saying nothing of the former rulers. Today, however, Geghamyan is essentially carrying out a campaign of negative publicity against the former leaders. In fact, the essence of the ‘Program of Creation’ is the same ‘Anti-Crisis Program’ that he proposed before the 2007 National Assembly elections. In other words, a critique of the present leaders and the additions are qualifications regarding Ter-Petrosyan and his team.

Thus, Geghamyan, in his platform’s chapter entitled ‘Anti-corruption politics’, states that, “In accordance with the research of international organizations (the 2006 lecture entitled ‘Transitional Nations’ conducted by Freedom House; the 2006 Gallup Corruption Study; the World Bank's 2006 report entitled 'The struggle against corruption in transitional economy nations’) it's noted that, despite the 2003 Anti-corruption Strategy and the formulation of measures designed for its implementation and the creation of a high-level Anti-Corruption committee formed in 2004, in terms of corruption's various components the situation is worse today than in 2002.»

This is exactly the issue that those political parties who comprise a part of the government must take responsibility for, including their presidential candidates.

Geghamyan concludes that, «Essentially corruption is the result of the absence of political will on the part of the authorities as well as a consequence of their being a source of corruption. This social evil is mostly conditioned on the widespread corruption within the entire electoral system, a system fashioned by the regime.» He also proposes various avenues of struggle to fight corruption including, working against the infiltration of criminal elements with the National Assembly, the creation of procedures by which society can scrutinize the actions of the government, the question of prohibiting officials from running companies, intensifying administrative and criminal accountability regarding tax evasion, etc.»

Arman Melikyan is the candidate who writes about corruption in his platform at greatest length. In general, while writing about various sectors and their manifestations, he extensively reflects on their essence and international experiences.

«The corrupt governmental system in Armenia is already formed and has reached a zenith in its development. It was possible for this to not have taken place had Armenia's new leaders not permitted, by the application of preventative measures, the coalescence of the government system and business to flourish ever since the independence of the country. Needy government officials, employing the levers of power at their disposal, gradually started to be sucked into corrupt processes, and thus causing material and moral damage to our nation. Today, those manifestations of a non-systematic state of corruption on a personal level have, through a creative development process, have grown into a seemingly solid and undefeatable system of corruption.»

In the fight against corruption Melikyan views the following as required steps: salary increases for government officials, the existence of a free and independent mass media, an informed civil society, etc. In his estimation, «The corrupt governmental system operating in our country doesn't engender confidence concerning our government and lays a foundation whereby large international players view Armenia not as an equal partner but as their regional underling when it comes to their political interests. 

Of course, the anti-corruption clauses in the candidates' platforms really don't differ all that much. Except for Serzh Sargsyan, all the others essentially stress the need for fundamental changes to occur. It is another question whether the candidates will have the necessary political will not to yield to the temptations of corruption and to wage more than a symbolic struggle against it.

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