Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian followed up on November 9 on his trenchant criticism last week of government corruption by announcing the dismissal of two deputy ministers and a senior Finance Ministry official. In addition, he requested the sacking of a civil servant employed at the Ministry of Agriculture.
It is not yet clear, however, whether this marks the start of the systematic crackdown on corruption that many analysts argue is long overdue.
The men whose dismissal Sarkisian announced or demanded are Deputy Health Ministers Tatul Hakobian and Abraham Manukian, Finance Ministry official Ara Muradian, and Vram Gyulzadian, the head of an Agriculture Ministry department dealing with food safety. Under Armenian law, Gyulzadian is a civil servant and therefore cannot be fired without the consent of the state Civil Service Council.
Sarkisian did not elaborate on the reason for the resignation "at their own request" of the two deputy ministers, nor did he level any explicit accusations against them.
Hakobian was quoted on November 10 by "Zhamanak" as saying that he stepped down because of his "tense relations" with Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian, who, Hakobian said, "has recently taken steps that were totally unacceptable to me." He did not elaborate.
Muradian's dismissal was apparently due to his failure to implement a government plan launched two years ago to provide farmers in Armenian border villages with interest-free loans worth 100 million drams ($275,000). Sarkisian decried on November 4 unspecified "extremely serious shortcomings" with regard to that project.
Sarkisian's November 4 criticisms were not confined to the ministries of Health and Agriculture. He also lambasted
the Finance and Education ministries, spheres in which he said corruption "has deepened," and ordered Education Minister Armen Ashotian to present "a clear and understandable plan of action" to root out "corrupt practices in the education system."
A poll conducted last year
of 1,515 Armenian households and 400 businessmen identified education and the health service among the six government agencies perceived as most corrupt.
The independent daily "Hraparak" construed Sarkisian's November 4 criticisms as an attempt to demonstrate that "he is in control of the situation and capable of firing even deputy ministers nominated by coalition parties." It further suggested that Sarkisian's "anticorruption populism" is intended to create "an image of him as a heroic fighter against corruption."
Corruption has long been one of the leitmotivs of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's relentless criticism of the present authorities. Speaking last month at a rally in Yerevan
, Ter-Petrossian alleged that "corruption has infected Armenia's entire government elite, from the regime's top leaders to ministers, governors, generals, judges, prosecutors, mayors and the majority of National Assembly deputies.... There is not a single high-ranking state official who does not have his own business...or has not made a huge fortune during his tenure. Nor is there a single business generating even $500 in monthly revenue, from which a representative of the state does not benefit."