Like anyone else, Armenian government officials like to look and feel their best. But how much should taxpayers spend to keep them in toothpaste, shampoo and toilet paper?
According to Ministry of Finance data cited on December 9 by online TV outlet CivilNet, state bodies spent nearly one-third of a million dollars ($325,775 or 132.3 million drams) on personal-hygiene and cleaning supplies over the past year, with toilet paper alone costing taxpayers roughly 7.8 million drams (about $19,165).
The Ministry of Justice’s Penitentiary Department, apparently quite desirous of a clean shave, spent a whopping $41,000, or over 16.6 million drams, to buy 175,000 razors – more than 36 times the size of Armenia’s 2011 prison population of 4,812 people.
But personal hygiene is not the only area in which the government seems eager to spend. The apparently house-proud National Security Service, the country’s intelligence agency, spent over 2 million drams, about $5,000, on supplies of scrubbing powder between September 2011 and August 2012, nearly $2,000 (750,000 drams) on kitchen cutting boards and a puzzling $850 (340,000 drams) on matches and gloves.
The presidential administration, which paid the dram-equivalent of roughly $1,700 for 800 rolls of $2-plus toilet paper — about double the price of the most expensive retail variety — declined to respond to a query from EurasiaNet.org about its purchases of shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other personal hygiene items.
The report also provided some telling consumer comparisons; while the National Security Service spent 150 drams (37 cents) per toothbrush, the presidential administration favored the 850-dram (about $2.09) variety.
All told, the total amount for fighting personal pollution exceeds budget funds allocated for the government’s fight against environmental pollution (over 125.1 million drams or about $308,297.)
While that tab may not seem so hefty to Americans who remember reports of the Pentagon’s own bathroom purchases back in the 1990s ($1,868.15 per toilet cover; $641 per urinal, according to The Chicago Tribune), the revelations have sparked outrage among many Armenians.
Poverty rates have increased by about eight percent since 2008 to stand at about 35 percent of the country’s population of 2.97 million people.
“Eight million drams for toilet paper . . . unbelievable,” commented 65-year-old Yerevan pensioner Rudolf Hakobian. “ While President Serzh Sargsyan has called for the government to get tough on corruption, he added, “it seems that the situation within the presidential administration has much more a need to get under control.”
Yet as often happens in the run-up to a national election, the report comes with a background story. CivilNet belongs to the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan think-tank set up by Prosperous Armenian parliamentarian Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister who is currently on trial for alleged financial wrongdoing.
Supporters of Oskanian charge that politics motivate the charges against him; earlier this year, mention was made of Oskanian as a possible candidate for president against President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia’s February 2013 elections.