CSOs and Mass Media Must Play an Important Role in terms of Ensuring Transparency of the Income and Asset Declaration Institution

High-ranking officials’ asset and income declaration is a an extremely important process that must be transparent. President of the Armenian Lawyers’ Association, Coordinator of the Secretariat of the CSO Anti-Corruption Coalition of Armenia Karen Zadoyan says that both mass media and representatives of civil society are talking about the transparency of high-ranking officials’ income and asset declaration institution. In his words, the system still needs improvement. “It cannot work effectively if civil society organizations and mass media don’t play a role to ensure the very transparency of the system and, so to speak, keep a public eye on it by undertaking public oversight,” said Mr. Zadoyan.

On 12 October, 2016 an anti-corruption event titled “Problems of Increasing Transparency in the Declaration System of High-Ranking Officials’ Income, Assets and Their Related Persons, as well as the Reforms Implemented” was held in Vanadzor in the scope of the “Multi-Faceted Anti-Corruption Promotion” project funded by the European Union and co-funded by the OSCE Office in Yerevan. The event was organized by the Armenian Lawyers’ Association and the CSO Anti-Corruption Coalition of Armenia in partnership with the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials and the Freedom of Information Center of Armenia.

Member of the Commission on Ethics of High-Ranking Officials Artak Sargsyan noted that persons who no longer hold public positions often do not submit declarations. “When the officials cease to be in any legal affiliation with the state or public services and the Commission doesn’t have any leverage to make them submit declarations, they don’t submit declarations upon the termination of their responsibilities,” he noted.

The member of the Commission attached importance to the introduction of the electronic system as it allows to alleviate the process of completing the declarations in line with the requirements set out in the guide, as well as to have analytical tools based on that. “We have included a guide in the system to help high-ranking officials every step of the way,” noted Mr. Sargsyan.

Vice-President of the Commission Armen Khudaverdyan noted that the electronic system also ensures the transparency of the Commission’s activities. He added, “In the past they used to accuse us of deliberately hiding some data. This form of electronic declaration resulted in people not having such stereotypes any more. Besides, now the Commission receives questions through the electronic inquiry form which is available on our website. We reply to all letters electronically. Any citizen can address us with their questions.”

Member of the Commission Edgar Shatiryan noted in his speech that the scope of declarable information is consistent neither with illicit enrichment model, nor with the conflict of interest prevention model.

Mr. Shatiryan told the participants of the meeting, “Nowadays related persons’ declaration is different from high-ranking officials’ declarations both in content and form. Related persons submit only annual declarations. Apart from that, the income and asset declaration form for the parent, as well as the adult and unmarried son/daughter who live with the high-ranking official differs in content and form from the declaration form designed for the high-ranking official’s spouse.” To solve these issues and other issues of this kind the Commission suggests that a transition should be made from the income and asset declaration system to an asset and interest declaration system, that the scope of the declarable information should be expanded as a result of reviewing the scope of related persons and that the data of the latter should be included in the very declarations submitted by high-ranking officials.

Local Expert of the “Multi-Faceted Anti-Corruption Promotion” project Marat Atovmyan deemed the activities of the Commission important and stressed that only the participation of civil society can make it more public. “I find it worth mentioning that public bodies have recently started demonstrating constructive approaches by cooperating with CSOs,” noted the expert, proposing to establish an NGO Council adjacent to the Commission.

Iravaban.net journalist Mr. Gevorg Tosunyan spoke about the role of the registry of declarations in the field of journalism. In order to ensure the transparency of the declarations he suggested to indicate the scope of persons who give donations, add a provision on the production year of the car (when declaring movables), indicate the price when buying expensive assets, as well as to declare high-ranking officials’ expensive vacations and flights.

The presentations were followed by a productive discussion. The questions referred to issues of transparency and conflict of interest in the declaration system, as well as officials’ entrepreneurial activities, etc.