Armenian Parliament To Debate Conflict Of Interest Among Members

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A senior pro-government member of Armenia’s parliament has drafted legislation which he hopes would make it harder for fellow lawmakers to engage in business in breach of Armenian law.

Armenia’s constitution stipulates that parliament deputies cannot hold any executive posts or do any paid work, which is not of scholarly and creative nature, during their five-year tenure. One of the constitutional amendments enacted in 2005 explicitly bans any “entrepreneurial activity” on their part. It was supposed to curb the growing presence of businesspeople in the parliament.

However, the number of wealthy individuals holding parliament seats has only increased since then. There are dozens of such deputies in the current National Assembly elected in 2007. Many of them rarely attend parliament sessions and are believed to continue to run their day-to-day business affairs.

“The constitution envisages that legislative work must be the main occupation of the deputies,” Davit Harutiunian, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday. “And so they must not waste their time on researching markets and making business decisions.”

Harutiunian, who himself reportedly has business interests, said that the problem can be addressed by a standing “committee on ethics,” which the 131-member parliament does not have at present. He has drafted and circulated among lawmakers a draft legal “concept” for the creation of such a committee.

In Harutiunian’s words, the panel would be empowered to ask the parliament to revoke the mandates of those deputies who are found to be directly engaged in business. He said the proposed document also envisages sanctions against broader conflict of interest among them.

“There are some countries where … in case of a conflict of interest, a deputy has no right to take part in a vote,” said the former justice minister. In Armenia, deputies would only have to acknowledge such a conflict before voting or delivering speeches on the parliament floor, he added.

The ruling Republican Party of Armenia, of which Harutiunian is a senior member, has yet formulate its position on the issue.

The Republican Party’s junior partner in the governing coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party, indicated on Monday that it will likely oppose the legislative initiative. Prosperous Armenia is led by Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia’s richest men.

Harutiunian’s initiative is backed, in principle, by the two opposition parties represented in the parliament. “We welcome the creation of such a commission,” Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, told RFE/RL. “But we also realize that there will be very long debates on this issue.”

Stepan Safarian, a senior lawmaker from the Heritage Party, said the opposition group will vote for the bill only if it sets a “clear definition” of entrepreneurial activity. He said the authorities must not be able to use it only against those businessmen who have crossed swords with them.


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