YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A respected international watchdog reported on Tuesday a further slight increase in government corruption in Armenia, ranking it among the 60 most corrupt countries of the world covered by its annual surveys.
Armenia as well as Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan Mongolia and Vietnam share a lowly 120th place in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 180 nations. It was 109th in the previous CPI released by the Berlin-based group a year ago.
The 2009 survey assigned Armenia a score of 2.7 measured on a 10-point scale, with zero indicating an extremely high degree of corruption as perceived by entrepreneurs and experts. The South Caucasus state scored 2.9 points in 2008.
“I must point out that as a rule, a change of up to 0.3 points is not deemed significant within the framework of this study,” said Amalia Kostanian, chairwoman of Transparency’s Armenian affiliate, the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC).
Still, Kostanian stressed the fact that the watchdog has found no decreases in the scale of widespread bribery and other corrupt practices in the country for the past decade. “In fact, we have been stagnating since 2003,” she said, presenting the findings of the latest CPI at a news conference.
The Armenian authorities claim to have stepped up their declared fight against graft in recent years, adopting various anti-graft programs and forming special bodies tasked with their implementation. The administration of former President Robert Kocharian launched in 2003 the first such program consisting of mainly legislative measures. There is little evidence that it has strengthened the rule of law in the country, however.
Kocharian’s successor and longtime close associate, Serzh Sarkisian, admitted last year that the virtual absence of prosecutions of corrupt government officials has undermined public trust in the stated crackdowns on corruption. His prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, has been even more vocal in acknowledging the seriousness of the problem.
The ACC and other local civic groups believe that the situation has barely improved under the Sarkisian administration. Kostanian stated in September that anti-corruption drives periodically announced by the government will be doomed to failure as long as Armenia’s top government officials are allowed to have extensive business interests and strangle entrepreneurs challenging them. She described the “fusion between large entrepreneurs and politicians” as the root cause of the problem.
Armenia continues to compare favorably, in terms of corruption perceptions, with two of its neighbors, Azerbaijan and Iran, that are 143rd and 168th respectively in the Transparency rankings. However, the two other neighbors, Turkey and Georgia, are well ahead of it, ranking 61st and 66th in the closely watched survey.