YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said on Thursday that he has received “radical” reform proposals from Armenia’s ministers of agriculture, finance, education and health in response to his harsh criticism of corruption in their areas of responsibility.
Sargsyan lambasted the four ministers and instructed them to come up with plans to remedy the situation during a session of his cabinet two weeks ago. He also demanded the dismissal of high-ranking officials in their ministries who he said are responsible for corruption or mismanagement.
At least four such officials, including two deputy ministers of health, have been forced to resign since then. None of them apparently risks criminal prosecution, a fact that has raised questions about the real motives of Sargsyan’s actions.
The prime minister on Thursday praised the proposals submitted to him by the four ministers. “In essence, dear colleagues, radical solutions are proposed with these documents,” he told the cabinet. “After getting feedback from the society, we need to rapidly implement those programs.”
“The idea is to mobilize our capacities to carry out reforms,” Sargsyan said, adding that more staff changes should be expected in those agencies soon.
One of the officials facing the sack is Vram Gyulzadian, the head of an Agriculture Ministry department dealing with food safety. Under Armenian law, he is a civil servant and can therefore not be sacked without the consent of the supposedly independent Civil Service Council.
Agriculture Minister Gerasim Alaverdian was quoted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service as saying that he is determined to ensure Gyulzadian’s removal. Alaverdian’s ministry last week formally asked the Civil Service Council to sanction the dismissal.
There have been no sackings yet within the Ministry of Education. “The prime minister didn’t speak of corruption within our ministry, the prime minister spoke of corruption in the education system,” Education Minister Armen Ashotian said as he unveiled his 16-point reform plan at a news briefing held after the cabinet meeting.
Ashotian said the set of legislative and administrative measures will “drastically reduce corruption risks” in public education the next two years. In particular, he wants his ministry to have greater authority over Armenian schools and universities, which he said are the hotbeds of corrupt practices affecting the sector.
Ashotian’s plan also calls for a stricter ban on cash payments demanded by school principals from students’ parents, ostensibly for school needs, and would expand the powers of university councils overseeing rectors.