Corruption is a well-known long-term problem in Armenia. While Armenia has been making incremental improvements, the amount of blatant nepotism, especially in the regions, is astonishing. Hetq recently publicized multiple instances of no-bid contracts being given to family members of the people in power. This obvious conflict of interest is exactly what Armenia needs to fight against.
In the first link, the mayor’s brother’s company got the no-bid contract because his company was “one of the biggest road construction companies around and best capable to get the job finished on time.” First, if you primarily give contracts to only one company, then of course they’ll be one of the biggest company. Second, even if they are the best to get the job finished on time, require documented proof, especially when there is a clear conflict of interest. Here’s the list so far:
In yet another setback, the police have not investigated another small town mayor six months after Hetq reported on the 1.2 million AMD spent on gas on a car that doesn’t run, among other petty embezzlements. The media can only do so much, it’s up to the police and prosecutors to act to stop this blatant corruption.
To end on a positive note, the Freedom of Information Center of Armenia (an NGO that I just recently learned about, but I believe does great work) helped organize the Open Government Partnership Conference here in Armenia. The Partnership is an international agreement between a number of states to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and use new technologies to strengthen governance.”
It looks like Hetq’s previous threat to name the corrupt agents that swindled millions of dollars from Armenia’s Nairit plant was ignored. Today, Hetq released the details on exactly who profited from the corruption, how they did it and what shell companies were used to cover it up.
What no one suspected, is that Hetq was working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organization that was unknown to the average person until two days ago when they released a data set on offshore money 10 times the size of Wikileaks. That leak covers years of financial info on the super rich that hide money in the British Virgin Islands. Included in the list are family members of Azerbaijani President Aliyev.
It’ll be interesting to see what other fun corruption and embezzlement by Armenian oligarchs comes to light because of this leak. It’ll be more interesting to see what the authorities do about it.
Hetq.am’s tag line is “investigate journalists,” but if you’re looking for the Armenian version of New York Times, good luck. Hetq only has 15-20 journalists, and is unable to afford to pay many of its contributors in the regions. Most of their “investigation” is simply to examine public records or go check out a river to see if there is pollution in it. However, with the sad state of journalism in Armenia, both of these activities are completely newsworthy.
In a change of pace, Hetq has recently done a serious investigation: investigating a missing $170 million from the Nairit rubber plant. They spent seven months tying together the players and shell companies that had dealings with the $170 million loan meant to get the plant operational again. When they pieced together how public money was ending up in private Russian bank accounts, they contacted the authorities. The authorities did absolutely nothing or simply gave a choice quote like “I don’t want to make any comment in order not to annoy anyone.”
On Thursday, Hetq published a scorching criticism of the government agencies that turned a blind eye to corruption. They’ve also said they’re going to publish everything they have: they’re going to name names and the evidence that proves “money laundering, bribery, abuse of state power” and other crimes.
I have to give Hetq props. This type of in-depth reporting is what gets Armenian newspapers hit with million dram slander suits. I really hope the same doesn’t happen to Hetq. While it claims it has hard evidence, the police haven’t helped in the investigation, so Hetq’s information might be weaker than what a court would demand. Without sufficient evidence to support their claims, Hetq is a sitting duck for a slander suit from any of the big shots they’re trying to call to justice.
Hetq has a great two part review of each candidate’s platform. This focus on the actual policies of the candidates is a welcome change from the constant talk of the candidates’ personalities. This overview helps voters choose the candidate whose view best match their own. Increased awareness and education can only help to level the playing field between the larger parties and the small “dismissible” candidates. Unfortunately, Armenia suffers from the same problem as the United States where votes for candidates with low chances of winning are essentially like “throwing your vote away.”
Armenia’s first international supermarket, Carrefour, has been planned to open doors since October. There is even space for it in the new mall with signs on the door saying “Coming Soon.” Unfortunately, Carrefour is saying that it might take more than a year, before the doors actually open. The reason is that local leaders keep delaying meeting with Carrefour. Their explanation is something keeps coming up (currently the excuse is the Presidential election), while others say that the local oligarchs don’t want the competition from its cheaper products.
Armenia’s sugar monopoly has only become worse over time.
One interesting note is that Sargsyan is distancing himself in his presidential campaign from the petty oligarchs that were previously used to guarantee votes. This might be a sign of the beginning of systemic change in the power structure of Armenia, but chances are it’s simply because he doesn’t need them to ensure victory in this election.
And, just to add a tangential story about corruption. Hetq measured the size of the new Tsitsernakaberd highway. They found that the 2km long highway was on average 1.5 meters thinner than it should be. This results in 3000 square meters of asphalt missing, a tidy sum that likely went into someone’s pocket.
As I mentioned in the Pause in the Posting post, I have been working on a response to the Urgent Call for electoral reforms. I finished the response and it’s been published in Hetq. I wrote the response because I felt the NGOs critique of the electoral system was too narrow and focused on the wrong issue. Yes there are many election irregularities, but those irregularities aren’t large enough to change the election results. Yet, public trust in the government is around 12-13%. I argue that the public doesn’t trust the government because it doesn’t trust the institutions of the government. Make the institutions trustworthy, especially vis-a-vis elections, and people will trust the government.
Check out the article here.
Hetq has continued its series of calling out public servants who magically have millions in unaccounted money in their tax fillings. This time around we have:
- The Minister of Justice declared 3 million in “other revenue,” above his salary of 3.7 million.
- The Minister of Emergency Situation’s bank account went from 4.8 million to 34 million in two years when his revenues were only 7.2 million.
- An appeals court judge’s wife bank account grew 34 million more than her stated income.
- A member of parliament has a few million in undisclosed revenue.
- And, an assortment of governors whose bank accounts grew suspiciously.