YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Piotr Switalski, head of the EU Delegation in Armenia, spoke at an anti-corruption seminar in Yerevan on May 13, attended by Armenian Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian and Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian.The European Union will provide 15 million euros ($17 million) in additional aid to Armenia if its government tackles widespread corruption in the country in earnest, a senior EU diplomat said on Friday.
Switalski complained about a lack of “visible” results of anti-corruption initiatives that have repeatedly been announced by the Armenian authorities.
“The government of Armenia has adopted a number of very important and very good documents,” Switalski said, referring to its most recent anti-corruption strategy and a council headed by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian.
“But what we need now…is not only new plans, new words and new declarations,” Switalski said during the seminar. “I think the people of Armenia expect real facts and visible proof that the fight against corruption is progressing in Armenia.”
“We have 15 million euros committed to help the government of Armenia fight against corruption,” he added. “But when I say committed I mean committed, not distributed or spent, because…there are conditions.”
“We want to see concrete results. If we don’t see such concrete results, these 15 million euros will not be transferred to the government of Armenia,” warned the diplomat.
The remarks came the day after Abrahamian announced that the government will embark on major reforms in order to confront new security challenges facing Armenia after the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said the reforms will include a tougher fight against corruption.
Abrahamian’s influential chief of staff, Davit Harutiunian, insisted on Friday that the government is committed to strengthening the rule of law despite skepticism voiced by opposition politicians and civil society representatives. “If you think that once a decision is made the results will be immediately visible, you are wrong,” he told reporters. “It requires some work and the prime minister ordered the start of that work.”
Commenting on Switalski’s statement, Harutiunian said: “Nobody expects money from Mr. Switalski for combatting corruption. The fight against corruption is not conditional on European Union funding.”
Abrahamian said on Thursday that the government is open to any proposals from the opposition and civic activists and even the common Armenian citizen. He said such proposals should be e-mailed to Harutiunian.
Justice Minister Hovannisian said that as part of the promised reform drive, the government plans to introduce criminal liability for high-ranking Armenian officials underreporting their personal incomes. She said a relevant bill drafted by her ministry will be approved by Abrahamian’s cabinet next week.
Armenia ranked 95th out of 168 countries evaluated in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It was 94th in the 2014 CPI that covered 174 countries and territories.
The head of the Berlin-based watchdog’s Armenian branch, Varuzhan Hoktanian, said the government has yet to take “concrete steps” against corrupt practices among its officials. “I’ve always said that at the heart of corruption in Armenia is a monopolization of the economy, which leads to monopolization of political power, and a merger of the political and business elites,” he said.