The public discourse during and after the four-day war in April highlighted the corrosive effect corruption can have on national security and brought the issue into the public spotlight, U.S. ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills said in his remarks to American Chamber of Commerce of Armenia on Wednesday, February 1.
Azerbaijan on April 2, 2016 launched an overt military offensive against Nagorno Karabakh, which claimed hundreds of lives on both sides. Armenian and Azerbaijani defense officials reached an agreement on the cessation of hostilities on April 5 in Moscow.
According to the ambassador, the lack of a resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh fuels corruption because it keeps Armenia’s borders closed and, when borders are closed, he said it is easier for powerful business people and others to control economic markets and close off competition.
“While the link between corruption and economic development, and between corruption and rule of law, have always been apparent, recently we’ve seen more discussion in Armenia about how corruption can impact and threaten national security,” Mills said.
“The government must strengthen and empower public institutions at all levels and send a clear message from on high that corruption will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law. Absent this message, no truly transformative change can occur.
“First, I suggest that the government strengthen the independent role and responsibilities of the Ethics Commission on High Ranking Officials. I applaud the government’s recent step in this direction. Significant changes have been made to the Administrative Violations Code and Criminal Code, providing for fines, criminal sentences, and limitations on holding government positions for 3 years for individuals who submit false income declarations. But more needs to be done. One fix would be for the Government to make clear that the launching of an investigation into possible corrupt activities by a government official does not require specific evidence of an actual bribe paid or a favor given, but could be triggered by a prosecutor’s assessment that the assets declared by a government official are so great as to trigger reasonable grounds of suspicion. Armenian media has done a very good job of analyzing ethics declarations and identifying instances where officials declare assets that are 40, 50 or one hundred times greater than their government salaries, but there was no indication of follow up by the Government.
“And I respectfully suggest that the government consider establishing a fully independent anti-corruption body with full investigative and prosecutorial authority. This was a specific recommendation by Mr. Peter Ainsworth, the Senior Anticorruption Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice whom the Embassy brought to Armenia twice in the last year for consultations with government and civil society. This seems a propitious time for the government to consider this suggestion, as we understand the Prime Minister is currently deciding how to restructure the existing Anti-Corruption Council and formalize the connections and lines of authority between the Anti-Corruption Council and other bodies with anti-corruption mandates.”