‘Rethinking’ in Action: Government takes cost-cutting measures as part of anti-corruption plan

Photo: www.gov.am

The Armenian government has made its first serious bid for a large-scale anti-corruption and anti-trust campaign by announcing cost-cutting measures related to administrative bodies.

At its session on May 19, Hovik Abrahamyan’s Cabinet said it will considerably reduce the fleet of vehicles used by Armenian officials in ministries, governmental departments and agencies and at state-run companies that will admittedly help save money at the same time raising the efficiency of the work of government bodies.

Prime Minister Abrahamyan has also declared about the establishment of a “level-playing field” for all businesses willing to engage in imports that apparently include such lucrative trades as fuel, sugar and others that have so far been effectively monopolized in Armenia.

The steps followed a speech by Abrahamyan at a government session a week ago in which he called for “rethinking” the past work and addressed the need of raising the efficiency of state governance and dealing with corruption, monopolies and other “vicious phenomena” in order to meet the growing challenges connected with last month’s hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan’s possible new aggression in the future.

The statements, however, were taken skeptically in the Armenian society where Abrahamyan and some other members of his Cabinet are perceived as “oligarchs” themselves. Few in the opposition and expert circles believe that it is possible to effectively fight against corruption and monopolies without clearly denouncing the past manner of action.

Still, by speaking about “abolishing monopolies”, Abrahamyan and others inadvertently admit that such monopolies have existed in Armenia.

During a question-and-answer session in the parliament earlier this week, Premier Abrahamyan called for the past to be forgotten and for everything to be started from scratch. It is not clear yet, however, whether it was a legal appeal for amnesty or just a moral and psychological slogan. But judging from the “amorphous” nature of the statement, experts suggest that the current monopolists and those in the government who have provided them with their backing will not be held accountable.

Meanwhile, illegal monopolies are a crime against the state, which deprives many businessmen of opportunities to earn, deprives the buyers of a choice and the opportunity of lower prices, and the country of a chance to develop. If the crime remains unsolved and unpunished, it is easy to repeat.

Amnesty may be an acceptable and legitimate method of rejection of monopolies and the corrupt past. But for its announcement officials will have to acknowledge that they have misappropriated state funds and enriched themselves through public office, something that is unlikely to be done in Armenia.

Earlier this week, Yerevan hosted an Armenian-American business conference, where one of the key issues was dealing with monopolies. Fight against corruption and monopolies is one of the conditions for the expansion of U.S.-Armenian cooperation and attraction of American investments in Armenia’s economy.

However, in Armenia, references to monopolies do not concern such spheres as, for example, electricity distribution or Russian state corporations like Gazprom and Rosneft. Without the abolition of these monopolies, which in Armenia are called “natural”, the rest of “de-monopolization” is unlikely to succeed.

Within two weeks Armenia’s Ministry of Economy is expected to present a list that will expose monopolies in Armenia. Minister Artsvik Minasyan promises to name all monopolies. At the same time, he appealed to media and nongovernmental organizations to assist in the compilation of this list.