Minister Slams ‘Abuses’ in Distribution of Social Benefits

ARF REPRESENTATIVE ANNOUNCES TOUGH STANCE ON CORRUPTION

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)-Newly-appointed Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian said on Friday dishonest practices in the distribution of state benefits to socially vulnerable groups of the population have been exposed–and offered a stern warning to his subordinates that he is prepared for tough action to remedy the situation.

"There are certain manifestations of abuse–illegalities and corruption in this sphere as well," Vartanian told several hundred employees of his ministry and its territorial divisions across Armenia who gathered for a special meeting in Yerevan. "We will make sure that those who do not work properly and commit mistakes know that they deal with the poorest and most unprotected people. Injustice must not be so visible in this sphere."

Vartanian–who was appointed minister in June by his Armenian Revolutionary Federation party–specifically questioned the credibility of official records carrying the names of individuals eligible for poverty benefits worth 7,600 drams ($13). Approximately 139,000 families are presently covered by the scheme.

Experts have long suspected that many of them are not poor and were included on the list in exchange for a bribe. Their suspicion was born out by a 2001 survey of household incomes which found that the poorest 10 percent of Armenia’s population receives only 6.5 percent of the modest government funds earmarked for social programs.

Distribution of pensions and unemployment benefits have also been affected by corruption–acknowledged Vartanian. His stark warnings came one week after the announcement of an aggressive government program which promises to bring the share of Armenia’s population living in poverty down from the current 50 percent to 19 percent by 2015.

Under the Poverty Reduction Strategy–the poverty benefits will rise to 15,700 drams by 2006 and 38,000 drams by 2015. The number of households eligible for them is to fall to 42,000 within the next 12 years.

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