YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament began debating Friday a government proposal to set up a new security agency that would be tasked with investigating instances of government corruption and other abuses committed by state officials.
Presenting a relevant draft law to the National Assembly, Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian said the proposed Special Investigative Service would exclusively deal with crimes that have a "great public resonance and "relate to the status of state officials." He said it would also be tasked to combat electoral fraud.
Under the government bill, the head of the SIS would be nominated by Armenia’s prosecutor-general and appointed by the president of the republic. This provision prompted strong objections from opposition and even some pro-government deputies. Those included David Harutiunian, Danielian’s predecessor who now chairs the parliament committee on legal affairs.
"In my opinion, the nomination by the prosecutor-general is unacceptable," Harutiunian said during the debates. He said the SIS chief should be nominated by the Armenian prime minister instead.
Harutiunian also rejected as unconstitutional some of his opposition colleagues’ deman’s that the head of the new security service be chosen by the parliament.
The parliamentary faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation also voiced misgivings about the bill, requesting a separate meeting with Danielian. The leader of the ARF block in Parliament, Hrayr Karapetian, said ARF lawmakers have "many questions" regarding the bill.
"If in his remarks, the minister now specifies the type of abuses, the outline of this law does not clarify what type of abuses it will deal with," said Secretary of the ARF Parliamentary Faction Ardyoush Shahbazian. "I think this situation will be clarified because it is very dangerous, this agency can become a whip for political pressure.
Opposition lawmakers, for their part, were highly skeptical about Danielian’s assurances that the SIS would be independent of all branches of government and therefore better placed to tackle government abuses than the existing law-enforcement bodies.
The government wants the proposed law on the SIS to take effect as early as December 1, the day when Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General will formally lose its authority to conduct pre-trial criminal investigation. Danielian insisted that the bill is not aimed at mitigating the serious reduction in the law-enforcement agency’s powers.