Karen Zadoyan: Formation of an Independent Anti-Corruption Body Must Be Clearly Reflected in the Program of the RA Government

The Government has presented the new program where fight against corruption is reflected as well.

The Government plans to criminalize “illicit enrichment” within three months and launch effective mechanisms to ensure its application in six months’ term.

For many years, the Armenian Lawyers’ Association has raised its voice for the criminalization of illicit enrichment. It is due to the efforts of this organization that the international experience was studied and the research carried out jointly with the Ministry of Justice was presented for discussion at a session of the Anti-Corruption Council.

Karen Zadoyan, the President of the Armenian Lawyers’ Association and the Coordinator of the Secretariat of the CSO Anti-Corruption Coalition of Armenia, highlights the importance of the provision stipulated by the program of the Government. He mentions, “The Government has adopted definite and targeted approaches in terms of illegal enrichment,” at the same time pointing out that some of the clauses of the provision has become subjects for disagreement.

In particular, the Government plans to develop an institutional anti-corruption system within six months also through reconsidering the formation principles of the Anti-Corruption Council. In this regard, Karen Zadoyan reminds us that the research on the international experience of institutional anti-corruption systems conducted by the working group formed by the decree of the RA Ministry of Justice, as well as the proposal on the establishment of an independent anti-corruption body in Armenia, was presented at the session on June 15-17th, 2016. The research included two models of independent anti-corruption bodies: Independent Universal Anti-Corruption Body (comprising 3 components: investigative, preventive, and educational) and Independent Preventive Anti-Corruption Body (incorporating preventive and educational functions, with a specialized investigative body functioning separately). According to Mr. Zadoyan, “The Anti-Corruption Council decided to instruct the RA Minister of Justice to work with specialized civil society organizations to bring out the strong and weak points of these two models in two months’ period and submit to the Government the final proposal on the two models of anti-corruption bodies. All the above-mentioned comes to corroborate the fact that the Government was to continue its policy of creating an independent anti-corruption body that was based on our proposal by clearly defining that in its program. However, the program of the Government lacks that clarity which brings us to the realization that it withdraws from the policy adopted by itself and promulgated to the society a few months ago. What’s more, it makes us assume that the Government intended to make amendments to the formation functions of the existing Anti-Corruption Council, thus creating an impression that it gained some independence. However, developed countries do not create impressions of independent anti-corruption bodies through cosmetic changes. They rather actually create classically independent anti-corruption bodies based on definite principles, standards and functions. Moreover, the recent international developments corroborate that there is no alternative to the independent universal body which is known as the most effective model. That is why I think that there is no need for inventing a new bicycle and that the program of the Government should clearly reflect the creation of an independent anti-corruption body.”

Nevertheless, he sees it as a positive development that the Government wants to define legal regulations limiting transactions in cash, extend the legal scope of persons submitting income and asset declarations, and clarify the framework of related persons, as well as to undertake measures for the introduction of the institution of declaring conflicts of interest. The Armenian Lawyers’ Association has raised and attached great importance to these issues over many years.  

Another issue in the program is related to the whistle-blower protection act. The Government intends to take measures for the launch of an effective whistle-blower protection system. Karen Zadoyan notes, “In this case, too, we encounter issues that require clarification. It is necessary to set certain deadlines for the introduction of this institution instead of only taking measures”.

Two key points have been left out in the new program of the Government, that is the institution of disclosure of beneficial ownership and the launch of independent anti-corruption centers.

According to Karen Zadoyan, the imperative of time is to introduce the institution of disclosure of beneficial owners in the public procurement sector and impose a ban on participation in state procurement tenders from offshore zones. He says, “The main danger posed by offshore zones is that many companies whose owners are unknown get registered in offshore zones and end up winning in public procurement tenders in Armenia. So, I also spoke on this issue at the previous session of the Anti-Corruption Council and suggested that in order to increase transparency and accountability and reduce the level of corruption in procurement the Government should oblige the companies to reveal their beneficial owners if they are willing to sign a contract and make the information concerning the owners publicly accessible. This proposition was discussed and accepted by the Council to the point that the Council decided to instruct the Ministry of Justice to work with along with civil society organizations and submit a relevant legislative package to the Government within two months’ period. Nevertheless, this essential issue has not been included in the new program of the executive office, neither in the part of fight against corruption nor in that related to public procurement.”

And it is stipulated in the program in relation to the fight against administrative corruption that unnecessary procedures and steps should be identified and eliminated and the the unnecessary communication with public bodies should be cut down to minimum. Karen Zadoyan finds this approach to be a positive one. However, he stresses that the fight against administrative corruption will not give the desirable results unless independent anti-corruption centers are launched in the same context of cooperation with the Government. This matter was also discussed during the latest pre-session of the Anti-Corruption Council, and it is very unfortunate that this important anti-corruption mechanism has not been included in the program of the Government.

Karen Zadoyan agrees to return to the subject of fight against corruption in Armenia and the respective policy adopted by the Government more thoroughly and comprehensively in the near future.

Gevorg Tosunyan