Hot line: A new center in Vanadzor prompts citizens to report corruption cases

Hot line: A new center in Vanadzor prompts citizens to report corruption cases

The new anticorruption center in Vanadzor

An Anti-Corruption Center has opened in Vanadzor, where citizens may call a hotline and anonymously file complaints on authorities they suspect of wrongdoing.

The hotline (0 8000 1112) started operation last month and is operated as part of the initiative of Interests Protection and Support Centers in Vanadzor, Gyumri and Yerevan project of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center NGO.

The citizens will find support at the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor office in Vanadzor, the Asparez Journalists’ Club in Gyumri, and the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center NGO in Yerevan.

The three organizations have created a coalition of anti-corruption activities to be financed by Casals & Associates Inc. of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who will be realizing the Mobilizing Action against Corruption within the next 4 years.

The centers will provide citizens with free legal advice, as well as will restore the violated rights of the citizens in courts in case of necessity with the help of the centers’ experts.

As of yet, few residents know about the service.

“I will surely call if I see any violation,” says Rafayel Movsisyan, 53, who did not know of the newly opened center until informed.

Movsisyan calls the recent activation of the government’s work and anti-corruption activities a game to ease the existing tension, as he says: “to soothe the people’s worries.”

He says he will believe the government if high ranked officials are punished for engagement in corruption and not some lower ranking members who become scapegoats.

“The spine of the corruption should be broken,” to have tangible results in the fight against it, says Movsisyan.

Even before the hotline was setup anti-corruption workers in Vanadzor conducted a survey and started investigation into the activities of the municipalities of Vanadzor and Tashir particularly the cases of a free of charge handing over of a land lot to an individual by the mayor of Vanadzor as well as the community budget allocations made by the mayor of Tashir.

“We will take steps based on the analysis of the decisions to have the officials brought to administrative responsibility,” says the coordinator of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor office Artur Sakunts, who also heads the Vanadzor center.

The center has its branches in the rest of the towns of the province at the regional representations of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly.

Sakunts says the anti-corruption center will first deal with the consequences of corruption, and only later, the reasons.

The head of the Lori anti-corruption center says the primary necessity in fighting corruption is to increase the level of awareness among citizens.

“In some cases citizens unaware of their rights do not even guess what happens to them is a corruption case, because they frequently perceive it as just giving and getting bribes,” says Sakunts.

He says officials take advantage of citizens’ unawareness to demand bribes, which is considered a minor manifestation of corruption, whereas the abuse of official position in favor of some group interests discriminating against another group, mostly an unprotected one, is more dangerous.

“There is no money interest here, but there is power abuse with discrimination.”

Haykuhi Harutyunyan, lawyer at the Lori anti-corruption center says its efforts should have influence on legislation.

“Very often cases of corruption are a result of legislative gaps. There is serious controversy in the definition and the responsibility provided for criminal, civic, ad administrative cases of corruption, furthermore, the practice of their implementation makes the work even harder,” says Harutyunyan. That is the reason, the centers say, legislative changes are an important part of their activities and they plan to appear with proper initiatives in the future.

The Lori center along with professional lawyers plans to file 16 cases in court within the next two years mostly in regard to its research, with a perspective of serving as precedents to be applied for other cases.

Casals & Associates Inc. has plans to open other centers throughout Armenia as part of its implementation for USAID.