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Grisha Balasanyan

Covid-19 Expenditures: Armenian Health Ministry Vague on Need to Make Law Retroactive

The Armenian government and the Ministry of Health have not explained why a March 12 decision regarding the expenditure of funds earmarked for Covid-19 related measures, has been made retroactive.

Based on the decision, government agencies and local municipalities can spend funds allocated for Covid-19 prevention, monitoring and treatment without entering into a written contraction. Payments for such goods and services would only need to be documented by an invoice or cash register receipt. In some cases, even these items wouldn’t be required.

Concerns have been raised that such a policy gives rise to corruption risks.

On April 14, Hetq wrote to the government on the matter. Our letter, for some inexplicable reason, was forwarded to the Ministry of Health. A month has past and the ministry has yet to provide clear information on the issue.

In recent months, the ministry has seen fit to either delaying any response to our inquiries or not replying at all. Even in the face of the simplest of queries, which would require at most one or two hours for a response, the ministry turns around and requests that it be given 30 days to draft a reply.

Is it that the ministry wants to squash any unfavorable news stories by resorting to such delay tactics? Seeking information from the ministry under these conditions has become a waste of time.

On May 7 Hetq wrote that the government decided, on March 12 of this year, within the framework of prevention, control, treatment, and other complex measures of coronavirus infection (COVID-19) in Armenia, to facilitate the procurement process.

Purchases from one person for this purpose are no longer limited to the purchase of the entire volume of the subject matter for 30 calendar days and they are not carried out through the electronic system. Transactions can be made without the conclusion of written contracts, making payments based on the invoice or cash register receipt.

It is noteworthy that the requirements of the government's decision apply to transactions dating from January 25, 2020. Thus, the government's decision has been made retroactive, which carries great risks.

Attorney Ara Ghazaryan also sees risks in the government's decision, since it could be used to edit some legal transactions, perhaps because it is no longer possible to substantiate the fact that there was an urgency or why the purchase was made from one person.

The ministry’s response to our simple questions as to the reason for giving retroactive effect to the government's decision and why January 25 chosen was pure double-speak.

"Since the detection of cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in different countries since the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Health and its agencies have implemented comprehensive prevention, control, treatment and other measures against the coronavirus infection in the Republic of Armenia. The adoption of the RA Government Decision No. 296-A of March 12, 2020 settled a number of organizational and financial issues that arose during the implementation of prevention, control, treatment and other complex measures of coronavirus (COVID-19) disease in the Republic of Armenia.” - Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Vahe Hakobyan.

As to the question of how many transactions between January 25 and March 12 were affected by government decision No. 296-A,  Hovhannisyan noted that the number of transactions made by the organizations subordinated to the Ministry of Health during the mentioned period, on which the requirements of the Government Decision No. 296-A of March 12 apply, was ten.

The Ministry of Health, distorting the question, gave a partial answer, mentioning only its purchases. The ministry failed to note that it did not have information on the procurement of other state bodies and local governments, but simply narrowed the scope so as not to provide the full number of transactions underlying the disputed decision.

 It should be noted that according to the government decision, the heads of state administration bodies, and the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure must submit a report on the actual expenses to the Ministry of Health.

We were also interested to know what department (state institution) transactions were covered by the requirements of Government Decision No. 296-A as extended from January 25 to March 12. The ministry again gave an abstract answer.

We also asked the Ministry of Justice about the need to give retroactive effect to the government's decision.

Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice Suren Galstyan replied that the Ministry of Justice had studied the decision No. 296-A of the Government adopted on March 12 but since the decision was not drafted by the Ministry of Justice it had nothing to say on the matter.

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