In the May 26th edition of “Hetq” an article entitled “The Mayor Funnels off Budget Monies” which prompted the Armenian Prime Minister’s Office of Supervisory Services (OSS) to start an investigation regarding the facts therein exposed.
The article had presented information regarding the diversion of budget funds during the construction of a new cemetery in the town of Alaverdi. The investigation of the matter by the OSS quickly resembled more of a farce than anything else. The Agency noted that “it had informed the Alaverdi Council of its investigation results and listened to the opinions of Council members at a specially convened session.” Council members Gagik Evoyan and Hakob Tchughuryan informed us that a majority of the Council hadn’t read the report and hadn’t seen any picture of construction to improve the cemetery. “For this reason we proposed to invite the author of the article, who somehow managed to avoid the attention of the OSS, to the Council session for an impartial discussion of the matter.
In the OSS report it is noted that the article in question contained much ‘incorrect information’ and presented its own arrived at accounting of the matter. However, nothing presented in the report is credible since none of it corresponds to the details as collected by “Hetq”, much of them videotaped. When videotaped, the Deputy to the Mayor and the head of the construction firm involved presented a whole different set of numbers, contradicting those presented in the Agency’s report. What can explain this divergence in the numbers presented?
The OSS failed to address the question raised in the “Hetq” article as to whose decision it was to divert funds intended to improve the cemetery grounds to construct a facility to offer burial services; the Mayor’s or the Council’s? Council member Gagik Evoyan told us that the matter regarding the construction of this facility was never discussed by the Council while in session.
In Armenia, the Mayor’s office is a business to be exploited. Mayor Artur Nalbandyan has consolidated the operation of all inter-city transportation to himself. In 2008 the Municipality budgeted 40 million drams to go towards purchasing food for the town’s kindergartens. Due to an absence of any competitive bidding that purchase order was granted to the “Kata” food-store chain owned by Taron Abgaryan, who owns Bazmashogh Ltd., the construction firm working on the cemetery, and Mayor Nalbandyan. Even today, by abusing his official office, the Mayor seeks to control the funeral service business in the town. If things continue as they are now the Bazmashogh Ltd. construction firm created by the Mayor and Taron Abgaryan will assume control of all construction activities put out for bid by the Municipality due to a lack of fair and transparent bidding practices.
The facts and figures published in the “Hetq” article were presented to us by Municipality officials assigned by the Mayor himself. These officials were directly involved in and supervised construction activities at the cemetery site. (This, by the way, has all been videotaped and we would be pleased to make the tapes available to OSS employees).
In this regard we’ve also received information from Ashot Khachatryan, the Head of Construction at “Bazmashogh Ltd” and Taron Abgaryan, the President of the “Bazmashogh”. “Hetq” prepared a video compiled from film taken on this and other issues that was broadcast on June 18th by the Alaverdi “Ankyun +3” TV station during a live talk show program beamed to a viewing audience of some 35,000 people. The clip included wretched images of the construction operations and explanations by Deputy Mayor Artavazd Varosyan and Gagik Sokhakyan, Head of the Department of Urban Construction, regarding the financial costs published in the article. Alaverdi Mayor, Artur Nalbandyan, was also invited to participate in the talk show, who should have attended in order to publicly refute any information published in the article he took issue with. These officials were either not informed about the initial cost estimates or actual construction costs involved in the cemetery improvement program or if they were they purposefully under represented them. This was a factor which the OSS skirted around. Parenthetically, during the “on the road” meeting of Northern Regional Law Enforcement Bodies convened in the town of Vanadzor on June 6th, Karen Shahbazyan, the Lori Regional Prosecutor, stated that, “As a result of the abuses by certain officials funds allocated from the Alaverdi budget for construction improvements to the new cemetery have not been effectively utilized.”
It is evident that the published results of the Prime Minister’s OSS have pressured the Prosecutor’s Office to act. The question remains will the Prosecutor file criminal charges after all is said and done?
Had the OSS contacted “Hetq” it would have been supplied with appropriate taped conversations and other pertinent information. Unfortunately those carrying out the investigation were intent to conveniently wrap things up from the start. What else would explain why the proposal by the Council to invite the author of the original article was refused outright?