Tuesday, 25 September

Two German foundations don't practice the transparency they preach

Edik Baghdasaryan
Liana Sayadyan

For a long time Hetq has been working on a series of articles about various foreign organizations that implement projects in Armenia, on how efficient and transparent their work is, if there is any risk of corruption, etc. We have found out that a number of organizations carry out competitions, issue grants, and fill vacancies in ways that violate the democratic principles and criteria that they themselves espouse.

Two German organizations - the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation - have been implementing projects in Armenia for several years now. Both foundations have offices in Yerevan . For months we tried to obtain information from these offices regarding their work, but representatives of both organizations refused to address our questions. They said that they could not provide us with the information we requested since it was not open, and they didn't have authorization from their headquarters. We found it strange that a member of the European Union, Germany , could make such demands of its representatives, and decided to look into the work of these foundations. A colleague of ours in Berlin was also surprised and offered to look for some information. He was interested to find out what these foundations do in our region, how they spend their financial resources, and why this information is classified.

A source told us that before the 2003 Parliamentary elections in Armenia , the Friedrich Naumann Foundation had allocated $250,000 to a local organization to implement a project aimed at the propagation of liberal values through an Armenian media outlet. The foundation's representative in Yerevan , Karen Aghadjanyan, advised us to verify this information with their regional representative, Asparuch Panov. But Mr. Panov has not responded to the three e-mail messages we addressed to him at various times. When we asked Karen Aghadjanyan about their financial activity, he said, "They bring cash, give it, and leave."

Give it to whom? What for? How much? No one seems to know the answers to these questions or to register this information. We tried to find out how much money they have spent in Armenia over the years. We sent another e-mail to Germany , to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation headquarters, but again we received no reply.

On August 8, 2004 we sent a letter to the director of the Yerevan office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation , Naira Gevorgyan. Here is what we wrote:

"Hetq Online is currently working on a series of articles about projects by international organizations being implemented in Armenia . We would like to request the following information from you:

Please list the projects that have been or are being implemented by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Armenia .
What local organizations have the projects been implemented with? Please give us the names of these organizations.
How much money has been spent for the implementation of these projects? Please note the cost of each project.
How can we learn about the results of the projects that have been implemented?"
We waited a month, and then we called their office to find out when should we expect a reply from Naira Gevorgyan. We were told that Mrs. Gevorgyan was on vacation and that we would receive a response to our letter within a week. Another month passed, and we called again. Naira Gevorgyan promised to reply soon. Yet another month passed; we called her yet again. This time she said that she had consulted her supervisors and had been instructed not to give out any information. We tried to find out who specifically had given her the instruction and asked for a written response to our letter. Naira Gevorgyan again promised to send the response within a week but we never received it. It is clear that as journalists, we are being deceived. And if we are being deceived, it suggests that there is something to hide.

It is not clear whether the seminars and conferences organized by these foundations in various hotels were registered by the hotels, whether taxes were paid for the amounts spent, and whether, in fact, the amounts actually spent equal the amounts spent on paper.

We tried to clarify some questions with the German Embassy in Yerevan , explaining that we had been unable to get information from the foundations themselves. We also tried to find out what German laws envisages in such a situation. Hayk Kakosyan, a press officer from the embassy, told us, "There are no laws in Germany obliging any organization to provide information."

We asked, "These Foundations receive financial resources through donations. What if one of the people who donated money, or any other German citizen, wants to know what a given foundation does, can they find it out?"

The response was more than strange: "There are no such laws in Germany . No, they cannot."

"What about international conventions to which Germany is a party?"

"I don't know, I can't say anything about that," Hayk Kakosyan said.

Irrespective of whether Germany has a law on accessibility of information or not, it is required, as a member-state of the European Union to abide by the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 10 of this Convention adopted on November 4, 1950 states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

In June 2002, during the seminar in Yerevan Prospects of Cooperation between Armenia and the European Union , Dr Irmgard Schwaetzer, a member of the Bundestag of the Board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation advised participants to "be transparent, open, accessible". Of course, this was said in relation to the upcoming elections. We might advise the German deputy to demand transparency from her own country before demanding it from others, but unfortunately, we are not members of the European Union and no one is interested in our advice.

We were informed by the State Register of the Ministry of Justice of Armenia that no legal entity under the name " Friedrich Naumann Foundation" or "Friedrich Ebert Foundation" is registered in Armenia .

Nevertheless, many interesting facts have come to light regarding the activity of these foundations in Armenia , which we will present to you in upcoming issues.

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