US agrees to pay for corruption in Armenia

By Vestnik Kavkaza
US agrees to pay for corruption in Armenia

The US Embassy in Armenia made two notable statements. The first one was made by U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, according to which, the US does not support groups seeking to illegally overthrow an elected government, including the Sasna Tsrer group. The second statement made by the ambassador concerned the US assistance to Armenia - in fact, he said that the United States will not provide financial assistance to Armenia for the first time, cutting it to $6.2 million from $20.4 million allocated in the past year, Zhamanak newspaper writes.

"The US Embassy, ​​in fact, calls these sources uninformed, noting that the budget simply does not have an address, target, marked line, but this is not news, and this is the logic behind any aid that has been allocated to Armenia for some years. Against this backdrop the double reaction of the US Embassy is notable, which is an indirect response to a new perspective of US-Armenia relations, or, as the chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly, Armen Ashotyan, said after returning from Washington, a warning attack against the "restart" of the Armenian-American relations.

The United States apparently preferred to respond before launching an active attack at least in two areas - Armenia's internal political life and the international agenda or foreign policy, in the light of which the decision on non-providing financial assistance was considered," the newspaper writes.

Bold statements by US Ambassador Richard Mills, in particular - about the large-scale corruption in Armenia, have become permanent. At every opportunity, the US side says that corruption prevents the flow of investments, particularly from the US, to Armenia, and also kills healthy economic competition in the country. In response, the authorities of the republic prefer either to remain silent, or some of them try to parry, using, as a rule, such arguments as "and at your place, they hang black people," the country's former minister of trade and industry Ashot Safaryan told Sputnik-Armenia.

As noted by Mills, the greatest concern of US investors is the type of corruption in Armenia, which closes markets and creates unfair competition, with some influential people who have economic and political connections, use these ties for their own interests, resulting in an unfair competitive environment. Thus, US investors' lack of faith in level playing field is hampered by their desire to invest in the Armenian economy.

The head of the RPA faction Vahram Baghdasaryan advised the ambassador to first fight corruption at home, and only after that give such advises to the Armenian authorities. The reaction of the deputy chairman of the party, Galust Sahakyan, was more restrained, who said that he does not know about corrupt phenomena in Armenia, and if the ambassador knows, then he should point to them. National Assembly Vice-Speaker and press secretary of the ruling party Eduard Sharmazanov, in turn, called the ambassador's assessment "a friendly council of a compassionate person and a proposal for cooperation," adding that anti-corruption activities are in the focus of constant attention of the country's leadership.

However, there is a truth in the US ambassador's words: international organizations have pointed to the lack of progress in Armenia's fight against bribery for several years in a row. For example, Armenia ranked 107 in recently published Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index - 2017, scoring 35 out of 100 points, which is only two points higher than in 2016.

In 2016, the US decided to allocate $750,000 to the Anti-Corruption Council formed under the government of Armenia. Later, however, the US repeatedly noted that this structure did not achieve serious results, as a result of which funds were not fully provided.

However, as always, it's "friendship that won": the bill on the budget, recently signed by the president of the United States Donald Trump, plans financing of external assistance programs, including those in Armenia, and recent publications saying that Armenia will not receive assistance are incorrect - they are based on a misperception of the distribution process in the US, the press service of the US Embassy in Armenia reported on Saturday, March 28.

The embassy explained that, ​​according to the US Constitution, Congress approves the overall budget and allocates funding to the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Financing is distributed by these structures between countries, according to the programs, and the remaining $58 million, intended for aid programs to countries in Europe and Eurasia, will be redistributed among a number of countries, including Armenia, for which there is no targeted allocation. The amount of the allocated amount will be determined in the process of interdepartmental procedures. Armenia was not allocated funds by the US Congress within the framework of the targeted allocation, but this has happened in the past few years, and does not mean that Armenia will not receive assistance.

The embassy said that, according to the decree signed by the US President, starting from April 22, 2018, the Generalized System of Preferences will be resumed for Armenia, which will allow Armenia to export goods to the US market at a reduced or zero rate for goods that are part of the GSP system. According to the press service of the US Embassy in Armenia, as of the end of September 2017, Armenia's GSP exports to the US was estimated at $25 million: aluminum foil, jewelry, fermented beverages and cherry jams were exported.

Off the hook? No wonder: after all, just a month ago, Armenian deputies from the Armenia-US friendship group visited the US on a working visit, but the visit was called "historic." Apparently, the delegation of Armenian parliamentarians led by Deputy Speaker of Armenian National Assembly Arpine Hovhannisyan with the help of the powerful Armenian lobby in the US power structures "persuaded" overseas friends to pay for corruption in Armenia ...