Sarkisian Backs Government In ‘Budget Misuse’ Row

President Serzh Sarkisian has openly sided with the Armenian government in its bitter dispute with a parliamentary oversight body that has alleged widespread abuses in the administration of pubic procurements.

Sarkisian lambasted Ishkhan Zakarian, head of the Audit Chamber, at a weekend meeting of top state officials which discussed the row currently dominating the Armenian media agenda. In remarks broadcast by all major TV channels, he seemed particularly enraged by Zakarian’s claims that as much as 70 percent of budgetary expenditure in Armenia may be misused or wasted by various government agencies.

Zakarian, who himself has faced corruption allegations from some opposition politicians and media, made such a claim as he submitted the Audit Chamber’s annual report to the parliament last month. The report claimed that procurement contracts are routinely granted to private firms in fictitious tenders. But it offered purported evidence of only several million dollars worth of financial damage caused to the state. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, the main target of the report, afterwards accused Zakarian of exaggerating possible financial abuses for political purposes.

“Unfortunately, in many cases the Audit Chamber has turned into an inspecting body,” a visibly annoyed Sarkisian told the meeting also attended by the premier and top law-enforcement officials. The chamber should only be engaged in financial auditing, he said.

“You must simply realize that nobody expects to hear your opinion,” he continued, turning to Zakarian. “Nobody cares about what you think of the prosecutor’s office or any other body. If you are disappointed or enthusiastic, that’s your personal issue. You can talk about that at home.”

Sarkisian went on to criticize Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian for not investigating the Audit Chamber claims immediately after they were made public. Hovsepian’s office waited until receiving a formal complaints from parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian to launch a criminal investigation last week.

The Armenian president himself accused the government last September of tolerating corrupt practices in the administration of state procurements. That was followed by a series of corruption inquiries and arrests of former and serving government officials.

The head of state on Saturday instructed Tigran Sarkisian to ensure that the government looks into the allegations contained in the Audit Chamber report “one by one.” “I urge you to do that rapidly and transparently,” he said.

The prime minister already issued such instructions to cabinet members earlier last week.