It's a defining theme for Armenia's presidential campaign.
Five case studies show how deep the debate over corruption actually goes.
After years of pressure from Western donors, the Armenian government in late 2003 launched its first-ever plan of actions aimed at reducing the scale of corruption. The program, developed with World Bank funding, was essentially a long list of laws and legal amendments meant to prevent and/or complicate graft. Virtually all of them were enacted by the end of 2006, leading the government to declare major progress in its stated fight against corruption. However, there is little evidence that the effort has strengthened the rule of law in the country. Despite an increase in the number of corruption-related criminal cases reported by law-enforcement authorities, there have been very few instances of senior government officials prosecuted or otherwise sanctioned for graft.
Armenia has continued to fare poorly in global anti-corruption surveys conducted by Transparency International. It ranked 99th out of 180 nations covered in the Berlin-based watchdog's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. Transparency International's Armenian affiliate, the Center for Regional Development (CRD), has repeatedly questioned the Yerevan government's commitment to tacking the problem in earnest. Most ordinary people appear to share this pessimism. According to a CRD-commissioned opinion released in January 2007, almost two in three Armenians feel that corruption has actually increased in recent years. Another poll made public in December 2007 showed that 54 percent of them think it will grow even more rampant in the years to come.
The government, meanwhile, announced in late 2007 plans to implement another anti-corruption program. Meeting on December 29, the government's special anti-corruption council headed by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian approved a nine-month timetable for the drawing up of such a program, but stopped short of specifying its main principles. CRD leaders say the promised anti-corruption drive can yield tangible results only if it focuses on the enforcement of existing laws and punishment of corrupt officials. Other government critics say that is unlikely to happen, not least because of the specific cases described in this feature.