Corruption in Armenia: Not What You Think

The Policy Forum of Armenia has released its third “State of the Nation” report, this one entitled “Corruption in Armenia.” It is described on the PFA website thus: “New Report Deconstructs Corruption in Armenia and Sounds the Alarm for Political Reform.”

PFA Corruption Report

Sound an alarm it does. In line with its previous reports, the first on Diaspora-Armenia relations and the second on Armenia’s environment, it goes on to list the litany of issues while predicting dire consequences for Armenia if the country does not heed its words.

If the PFA’s goal were to establish that corruption exists in Armenia, as it does pretty much everywhere, it didn’t need to write a whole report on it. But it tries to do much more than that: it attempts to show that corruption is so widespread that it is severely hindering the development of Armenia.

Except it doesn’t bother with some major details and seems to care more for showing that it can put together a finely designed report with lots of references to economic jargon and carefully chosen information.

The problem with this report can be summed up succinctly: if you’re going to make a case for something, particularly an academic one, be honest.

Below are a few points about why I think the PFA is being dishonest in its “Corruption in Armenia.”

1) Laziness or Irresponsibility?

Although it’s second-nature for most people to assume that Armenia is drowning in a sea of corruption, that should not excuse the PFA from establishing, with evidence, the issue that they are addressing. They don’t.

Activists concerned with climate change can’t just take climate change as a foregone conclusion before they start pressuring governments to place restrictions on pollution; anybody calling attention to an issue they believe is a concern in Armenia should be required to assume the same burden of proof.

The PFA, conversely, tries to establish corruption as a fact in referencing studies that are not its own and by saying that it doesn’t want to “duplicate” those by doing its own analysis. I discuss why this is a problem in forthcoming points.

They excuse themselves from the task by saying that “without the political will to investigate cases and judicial systems to prosecute them, it is even more difficult to provide concrete quantifiable examples and clear evidence…” As in, it’s not their fault they can’t sufficiently prove corruption exists through their own study.

That’s all fine and good but you can’t address a problem by prefacing it with, “there is this problem which we can’t prove really prove exists and it’s not our fault that we can’t. But we’re going to use other sources – which is another reason why we’re not doing much analysis – that prove that it exists because these sources were apparently not precluded from conducting the studies we wouldn’t be able to do sufficiently.”

So, which is it? That corruption couldn’t be measured sufficiently or that the PFA just didn’t want to measure it because others supposedly had?

2) Perception vs. Reality

If you’re walking all by your lonesome in the desert, you might perceive that there is an oasis where you will be able to replenish yourself. The reality might be that there is no oasis and that your perception was just a mirage. We know the human mind plays tricks like this. Indeed, among the youth, this has been popularized by the meme “Scumbag Brain”:

scumbag brain

So it’s important to know that oftentimes when you hear about “corruption” in a country, like when Transparency International reports about it, it’s not actual recorded corruption but a perception of corruption.

This is significant because public perception can be affected by many factors, for example, a report on corruption that doesn’t provide much evidence of corruption. So is it conceivable that if you keep telling people there is a problem with something that they might start believing that there is a serious problem with something?

To elucidate the point, I’ll refer to the 2010 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households (sponsored by USAID) which is used in the PFA report, where the following is written:

“According to a majority (82%) of survey respondents in 2010, corruption is a serious problem in the country.”

That might be what you call perception. The following is what you might call reality:

Although the healthcare system is perceived to be the most corrupt institution, only 22% of those respondents who had a contact with the healthcare system said that they were asked for a bribe…People were rarely asked to pay bribes during contact with public utilities and communications institutions; only 1% of those who dealt with them mentioned that they made some unofficial payments. Only 10% of those who had contacts with the education and social security systems were asked for a bribe over the past year.

The respondents were asked also to describe the main scenarios of corruption cases in the public sector based on their personal experiences. In 2010, 22% of the respondents stated that in all cases, officials mostly do not directly demand a bribe. Rather, they show that they have expectations of money, some gift or favors. Another 14% say that in all cases, officials directly demand money, a gift or a favor. About 9% mentioned that in all cases they used their own contacts to get privileged treatment. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.

(The cat’s words not mine.)

So one of the same reports that the PFA uses to prove that there is corruption in Armenia actually says people haven’t really experienced corruption in Armenia? Then how do you write a whole report on it?

3) Straw Man

After doing a rotten job of establishing that there is rampant corruption, the PFA expounds on the effects of such corruption later in the report. This is called a straw man argument: attacking an issue which isn’t an issue but which was created solely to be attacked.

I know the people in the PFA are really smart but it would be great if they didn’t insult the intelligence of us common folk.

Look at how feeble this straw man looks.

In releasing the report, the PFA said:

The report is intended to spur a debate on the issue of high-level corruption in Armenia and serve as a warning for corrupt officials that civil society organizations are ready to help identify and recover stolen assets—irrespective of their location—and return them to their rightful owners.

It would have been a great help if the space in the report or the effort expended to produce it were directed toward elucidating the assets stolen and high-level corruption that are so prevalent that they necessitated a report discussing their impact and resolution.

4) Old and Selectively-Used Data

So say we don’t have to prove corruption is rampant in Armenia because, well, why would you have to do that if everyone believes it, right?

"Why couldn't people just take my word for it?"
“Why couldn’t people just take my word for it?”

Even with that, I’m going to make the extreme proposition that the most current information available and the progression of that information over several years be used to give an accurate picture of the issue we’re considering.

As mentioned above, the PFA Report doesn’t use its own studies to establish that there is a corruption problem in Armenia; rather, it uses other reports. Unfortunately, from these reports, it uses both outdated information and it does so selectively, at that.

None of the reports the PFA uses in its 2013 “Corruption in Armenia” was conducted after 2011, making the newest one at least two years old. This despite there being more current information available.

If the argument goes that Armenia should have done much more in 20 years since its independence, an extremely short time in history, then we can also grant that two years is a significant length of time during which changes may take place. So would it not have been the responsible thing to do to use the most current reports? Reports that might show an improvement? I’m sure PFA would agree that every year counts.

Here is a sampling of information selectively used or omitted by the PFA report:

Global Integrity Index

The Global Integrity Index, which the PFA cites, notes that Armenia was one of the most improved countries, second only to Liberia, in addressing corruption from 2009 to 2011 (a two year difference). The PFA does not note this in its report.

If you want to see how the Global Integrity Index measures corruption, you can read further here https://www.globalintegrity.org/global/report-2011/armenia/.

World Bank 

In the most recent rankings available, the 2012 World Bank aggregator of corruption perception around the world, Armenia is ranked in the same percentile range of the following pitiful countries with destitute economies: India, China, Argentina, Mexico.

Excluding the Baltic states, Armenia (37th percentile), Belarus (37th), and Moldova (33rd) come in only behind Georgia (64th) among former Soviet countries according to the World Bank rankings – all the others are ranked in the 0-25th percentile.

World Economic Forum

Along with the World Bank, the World Economic Forum noted a 10 percentile improvement in Armenia’s corruption perception between 2010 to 2012.

The WEF also indicates, in its Global Competitiveness Survey, indicated that between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, Armenia gained 10 places in being globally competitive for business. In the 2013-2014 report, it showed that Armenia gained another three places (read: improvement).

Remember that in 2010, in the USAID-sponsored report cited above and also used in the PFA report: “Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.”

Two years later, major international institutions noted marked improvements in Armenia’s corruption perception.

I can’t speak to the motivation of the PFA and why it was so irresponsible in writing this report, although it’s not the first time. But besides feeding the despondence which is prevalent in the same reports that it uses to prove its case, the PFA report seems to have little else use.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: the graphic designer should be commended for making a really beautiful looking report. It’s just that that thing about judging books and whatever by their covers is one of the few things that stuck with me from elementary school.

I’d like to note, in the likely event that I’m accused, that I do indeed believe there is corruption in Armenia. What’s more, I  believe that corruption should be vehemently quashed. Nevertheless, I want to have an honest discussion about it, with facts. Not selective and anecdotal cases presented as fact and then generalized.

Armenia should be the least corrupt country in the world and given some of the information discussed here, it seems that it can be. But I’m not willing to accept discussions of perceived corruption in Armenia based on false premises that are having a real effect on the psychological well-being of people in the country. If you’re not willing to be responsible in the information that you disseminate, and I’m looking at you PFA, just stop. You’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all Armenia.

If you believe in critical thinking, do it.

Links:

Aggregate information compiled by the World Bank and used in the PFA report

PFA Report: Corruption in Armenia

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

12 thoughts on “Corruption in Armenia: Not What You Think”

  1. Mr. Bayramian, I eagerly started reading your article with hopes and anticipation for a diligent, well thought out, and a fact filled response to a report prepared by a team of economists and other specialists with PHD degrees. Unfortunately what I read was a haphazard attempt by a comedian, armed with good English language vocabulary, a fair ability for copy-pasting cartoonish pictures drawn by other talented people, and sporadic sarcasm and foul language. I am glad you decided to compete and compare your wit with such renowned professionals as Aaron Acemoglu, Anna Lee Saxenian, and Garo Ghazarian, but I would like you to read your own writing, one more time, and judge the outcome of this battle, which I am flabbergasted to figure out, why you decided to be a part of. Thus please refrain yourself from thinking about such undertakings, while you have a can of beer and slice of a pizza in your hand and busy watching Saturday Night Live.

    1. Mr. Markosian, Mr. Bairamian here. I would argue that this article was indeed diligently prepared, well thought out, and fact filled, as you so wished. Indeed, it was. I’m sorry you were distracted by my attempted comedy and “good English language vocabulary” and other trivialities. Since these diverged your attention from the main points, I urge you to reread the article and skip over the images and foul language that so offended you. If you’re unable to do that, then count the PFA successful for having their bells and whistles persuade a reader about false realities.

      I might refer you to the comment posted by “grigorartsruni”, as well.

      In truth, if your argument against me rests upon me having “a fair ability for copy-pasting cartoonish pictures drawn by other talented people” (which seems to me more like a schoolyard jab and a poor one at that), then I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much.

      Back to my beer, pizza, and SNL (seriously: WTF?).

  2. I must disagree with Norick here. Mr. Bairamian is not claiming to be an academic, and thus is in no need of responding as such. Also I don’t see how he is going against economists like Daron Acemoglu..who’s only contribution to this report is a note which alludes to his own book that bad management is what causes nations to fail…No one here is arguing that there is no corruption in Armenia, all that Mr. Bairamian is suggesting is that this report by PFA simply does not display the necessary quality to be part of a valid debate on the matter.

  3. Excellent job debunking the doom-and-gloom campaign being put on by the group calling itself “PFA”. It is especially telling that PFA have nothing of substance to counter Mr. Bairamian’s debunking of their work when reading the response of Norick Markosian, Instead of countering Bairamian’s factual assertions that the PFA “report” is based on biased and outdated data obtained from sources pushing an anti-Armenian agenda in Armenia, markosian condescendingly reminds us that the report was prepared by men with PhD degrees in economics. Firstly, having a degree in economics does not prevent committees of men from making disastrously flawed analysis, predictions and policy decisions, as anyone who has been following the record corruption prevalent in the American and EU financial sectors since the 2008 economic collapse can prove… But after reminding us that PFA’s report was drawn up by educated specialists (one can argue that anything, from the irrigation disaster which has destroyed the Aral Sea to the genocidal campaigns waged against entire populations of Armenians, Palestineans and other groups were drawn up by educated groups) markosian goes on to with ad hominems and attacks against the layouts of Bairamian’s article without a single word the counter the substantive arguments Bairamian skillfully presents… As a final insult markosian reminds us that important men like garo ghazarian worked on the PFA report. A little background on ghazarian:

    ***
    Garo Ghazarian, the disgraceful head of the so-called Armenian Bar Association (“ABA”)has a history of trying to legitimize Raffi Hovannisian’s coup d’état on the pages of the notoriously anti-National, foreign-funded, radical “opposition” media/propaganda source Hetq.am:

    http://hetq.am/eng/news/23605/armenian-bar-association—government-denies-victory-to-raffi-hovannisian.html
    The tone of this article reminds one of old Bolshevik propaganda from 1918-1920 calling for the overthrow of the Armenian Republic and its replacement with the promised “saviors” who have come from overseas. He even shamelessly attempts to compare the situation with the government of Armenia, a blockaded and war-torn nation struggling to establish national institutions and battle corruption after 70 years of communism and about a millennium of statelessness before that, to Ottoman Turkey by invoking the Armenian Genocide.

    Here he is in a video parroting State Department and Turkish/Azeri lines about how bad the Armenian government is:

    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/263044

    Let’s take a closer look at Ghazarian. He is a California-based lawyer. Here is some background from the Armenian Bar Association website:

    “In addition to his nationwide criminal defense law practice, Mr. Ghazarian is also the Dean and a professor of law at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles. Mr. Ghazarian has lectured extensively to law enforcement agencies and is a former guest instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He is a board member of the Mexican American Bar Association – Political Action Committee, and serves on its Judicial Evaluations Committee. He also is a board member of The Armenian Center for National and International Studies, a research and educational institute which promotes the rule of law and civil and human rights in the Republic of Armenia.”
    http://www.armenianbar.com/news/show/215/1

    The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (“ACNIS”) as we know is a tool of Raffi Hovannisian, himself a tool of foreign powers. So we have an FBI-affiliated attorney in the United States spreading malicious lies about Armenia, with the United States and worldwide Armenian Diaspora as the intended audience. Further, Hovannisian himself “gave up a promising career in law” to return to Armenia as Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s reign began. The connections between Ghazarian and Hovannisian are sufficient to show a conflict of interest and discredit the subversive actions of the ABA chairman.
    ***

    One might suspect that there is a conspiracy by certain well funded, American based groups intent on attacking Armenia through a psych-op campaign to spread doom-and-gloom and cause a chaotic overthrow of the Armenian government to be replaced with a western puppet autocracy like Mikhail Saakashvili’s Georgia, or the various “color revolutions” or “Arab Springs” that spontaneously pop up all over the world……….

  4. Thank you dear William. For years, Policy Forum Armenia, composed of Western-led Armenian activists, has been releasing reports trying to show how bad “Armenia” is doing in many ways; this is because their goal is government change. As soon as a pro-Western agent of theirs will come to power, you will see them changing sides and writing how Armenia’s economy is developing, how Armenia has been improving its corruption index etc. Again, PFA is one of the many Western-suppported (be it directly or indirectly) organizations who ultimately work for their masters in Washington.

  5. Thank you for your work here, William. I find your other commentaries politically speaking spot and quite funny. I like your politics and I like your humor.

    The Washington based PFA, run by the freaky nutjob known as Ara Manoogian and an IMF employee named David Grigoryan, is one of our Western led subversive organizations attempting to push a Western agenda inside Armenia. Personally, I liken them to Syria’s “SNC” and Libya’s “NTC”. In a scenario where Western powers would square off against Armenia (which would have eventually happened had it not been for the Russian factor in the Caucasus), it would be these PFA characters who would go on CNN and BBC excusing and justifying the economic sanctions or the bombings of their homeland. These people, regardless of their stated intentions, deserve no mercy.

    Anyway, the pseudo-nationalist folks that Asbarez proudly featured the PFA’s most recent paper. Here is a short exchange a couple of us had with the IMF employee in page’s comments section. There were also some comments that Asbarez did not post: http://asbarez.com/115235/report-analyzes-corruption-in-armenia-prescribes-political-reform/

  6. I agree with Arevagal, no mercy should be shown for foreign agents and foreign-funded provocateurs in Armenia. With the (grey) wolves waiting at Armenia’s and Artsakh’s borders to pounce at the first signs of internal Armenian weakness, we simply cannot afford the risk of letting these people go about their business in Armenia. The recent bravado of the Shant Haroutunian terrorist attack in Yerevan underlines the danger of allowing every would-be revolutionary free reign in Yerevan.

    Since the PFA’s David Grigoryan works for the IMF, let’s shine a little light on the IMF’s activities and its role in destroying sovereign nations around the globe and bringing those nations into debt slavery of arguably the world’s most corrupt and destructive entity: the western financial and banking cartel.

    Here is Confessions of an Economic Hitman by former insider John Perkins:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqIHKWd9rSc

    It might also interest the readers to do a little research on their own about “structural adjustments”, the Washington Consensus and the forced privatizations of natural resources and public utilities in poorer nations across the world. Let’s ask ourselves if these policies, these organizations which promote them and agents of those organizations like David Grigoryan are the types that we want giving advice on which path of development Armenia should take.

  7. Generally there is little well-informed, well-articulated debate on Armenian issues. So Mr. Bairamian’s perspective is a welcome and refreshing addition. Thank you for that!

    I agree with your assessment: if ever there was a one-sided corruption report, it is the one under questions. There is certainly an agenda there. And most certainly it is not a scientific paper.

    Having said that, I do have some reservation about your writing. First, the tone of YOUR writing – I’d say sarcastic, verging on vitriolic – is not constructive. Cute cats with provocative captions will only invite creative insults (see above). What is the good in that?

    Also, defining, methodically studying, and quantifying “corruption” is a notoriously difficult task. There is lamentably little data on the subject. However, to say that the PFA is erecting then fighting “straw men”, both gives them too much credit and seems like a reactionary exaggeration on your part. Let’s be honest, the task of scientifically studying corruption is flawed from the get go (much like most social sciences). You can’t exactly go and ask an official if they are “corrupt” This is not to apologize for or excuse the PFA. They would do well to emphasize the limitations of their collection of articles and the lack of hard data or original research. They should certainly mention that in the introduction. I didn’t see it.

    I am also wondering: aside from your strong reaction to the PFA, did you see anything of value in the report? If so, it would not be whitewashing their shortcomings to mention it.

    To your question – “is it conceivable that if you keep telling people there is a problem with something that they might start believing that there is a serious problem with something?” – the answer is, hardly. That would assume that the report in question, or any other report, has enough influence to affect the perceptions of the people of Armenia (and if we stretch it to a logical conclusion – then it becomes conceivable that people of Armenia cannot think for themselves). Armenian citizens have learned not to trust any reports by anyone at this point. That is, unfortunately, a side-effect of (let’s face it) rampant corruption in the country.

    Perceptions of corruption do not change quickly, and your charge that the PFA has “selectively” used OLD data seems unfounded. I could not find any substantial report on the subject more recent than the one provided by the PFA (aside from a handful of percentage points by Transparency International, without in-depth analysis or explanation).

    Overall, thank you for the spirited, informative, strong writing! Please keep the debate alive.

  8. Hovsep Hajibekyan, a quick Google search of your name reveals that you interned at the ANCA. While there are many good men working at the ANCA, like Aram Hamparian, there are also many individuals whose actions have succeeded in denigrating Armenia’s international image, and it’s image in the eyes of the Diaspora as part of the doom-and-gloom, black propaganda campaign initiated by the west against Armenia. The most glaring example is Seto Boyadjian, who wrote this little hit piece titled “Armenia Is Burying The Soviet Man” which was published by Asabrez (http://asbarez.com/108584/armenia-is-burying-the-soviet-man/), the first line of which reads:

    “While the Central Electoral Commission made its announcement last Monday on the bogus results of the February 18 presidential election in Armenia, the people on Yerevan’s Freedom Square dictated the real outcome of the presidential elections.”

    Now we can forgive such brash speech had it come from an inexperience and naive protestor on the streets of Yerevan getting ready to riot after reading years and years of negative reporting about Armenia from the likes of the PFA, but Boyadjian is an educated and experienced attorney. At the very least, he could have written his article without the conclusionary and inciting TONE that we see above, knowing full well the majority of his audience were not educated in geopolitics, nor were they intimately familiar with Armenia. Instead what we see are the same destructive tactics used by fellow California attorneys Raffi Hovannisian, Garo Ghazarian and Boyadjian in a vicious campaign to destroy once and for all the Diaspora’s connections to Armenia. As Arevagal pointed out, the above campaigns goal appears to be regime change in Yerevan, but that will not happen, instead boyadjian and co. will only succeed in turning the Diaspora permanently away from Armenia. We saw some of their “fruits” of their campaign during the telethon, where about $22 million was raised for Armenia, with $12 million coming from Russia and a pathetica $1 million coming from the Western US Diaspora.

    Anyway Mr. Bairamian’s criticisms of PFA remain valid and totally unaddressed. I am curious though, since you seem so concerned about the “tone” of Mr. Bairamian’s article, or comments from me and the others here, let me ask if you have ever expressed concern for the venomous anti-Armenian tone expressed by any of your comrades at the ANCA?

    ps the entire advertising industry and public relations industry are built around convincing people that they have a problem and need to buy, or by into, a solution to fix it. For example, tell someone they are “too fat” by society’s standards, bombard them with selective media depictions of ideal and unrealistic models day and night, and sooner or later you will be selling billions in diet pills, and have a population suffering from eating disorders. Or tell people their is a threat to their security, and even if it is a nonexistent and illogical threat they will be calling on their leaders to address the issue, and even willing to sacrifice their personal freedoms in a bid to feel secure again. Population management is very important in a democracy, the west employs its vast and far-reaching media to achieve this end. Look up the excellent BBC documentary “The Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis for more insight, and how this is used in politics.

    1. Sarkis, thank you for your reply.

      I’m convinced, that the criticisms we hurl at each other here and elsewhere, really come from a deep concern for Armenia and its future. I think we all want the same: a strong, prosperous, proud Armenia.

      How we get there – there is the disagreement (which is perfectly fine). You say that some have been “denigrading Armenia’s international image”. Burying our problems, along with our heads, in the sand will not solve anything. We need to have an honest and open conversation about Armenia’s shortcoming. Most of these “denigrading” comments are things that “a best friend might say” – to borrow a term from this blog.

      It seems that most of the negative noise coming from Armenia is not false. But recently this negativity has been drowning out all the good things… I agree with Mr. Bayramian and you – that drone of “doom-and-gloom” is absolutely unacceptable.

      P.S. There are many fine men and women who are dedicated to the ANCA. (Unfortunately, I can’t count myself in that group). Not all of their views coincide, of course. And my views have little to do with my time as an intern there.

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