Monday, September 27, 2004

Though this is a long story, it is very relevant to my January 6, 2004 log about Vahram Parseghyan, who is the former Deputy Minister of Culture and President of the Republic of Armenian’s All Armenian Youth Foundation and is now Preident Kocharian’s controller.

According to this story, the All Armenian Youth Foundation has received at least $350,000 in grants and is questioning if that money was in fact used for its intended purpose. If you read my log from January 6, 2004, it should tell you that there is a really good chance that this money was most probably misappropriated, as this ArmeniaNow story implies.

Anyway, I’ve BOLDED the parts of this story that talks about Vahram Parseghyan and the All Armenian Youth Foundation so you can easily find it.

Kind of a depressing story, so I would suggest that you pop a few Prozacs before starting to read it.

Money for Nothing: Investigation shows misuse of government money via NGO schemes

By Marianna Grigoryan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

An investigation by an agency looking into possible fraud, says it has found that thousands of government dollars designated for youth projects have in fact gone to government officials who pocket the money or give it to relatives.

Nor Hayastan (New Armenia), itself a Non Governmental Agency, claims that from 2001-2003, about 470 million drams ($940,000) should have gone to support of various civic youth organizations who applied for funding via grants. A close look at spending, however, found that only 1.5 percent ($14,100) ) went to NGOs which were not affiliated with officials.

The investigation also found that in at least two cases, money went to non-existent NGOs.

From 2001 to 2003 the government designated more than 20 million drams ($40,000) to Galik Women’s Union NGO and 18 million ($36,000) to Yeritasard Shinarar (Young Constructor) NGO.

In fact there is no information about these NGOs neither at the Ministry of Justice, where all NGOs must be registered, nor at other information agencies.

According to Eleonora Manandyan, the head of Nor Hayastan, their research found that government money is not spent on social improvement, but instead NGOs are created as a means by which officials deceitfully receive money.

Manandyan says that the initiative for the investigation grew from a perceived apathy among youth during the recent oppositional parties’ protests. If money is being spent to instill civic awareness, then where is the result?

“We decided to find out where the money goes, which the government in the form of a grant through a special decision had to allot to the youth, their issues and organizations that deal with those issues,” says Manandyan.

After two and a half months of trying to get information from the Ministry of Culture and Youth Issues, it took a threat of legal action to finally get answers.

“At the Ministry they were thinking that our eagerness would get weaker after constant delays and we would refuse our intention, but that couldn’t happen,” says Manandyan. “We were thinking that the situation wouldn’t be encouraging, but the results were so terrible that for several days we simply couldn’t believe it.”

After receiving the information and doing the investigation the organizers have formed a special list, a Top 25 where they included those organizations that received the biggest grants from the government and the founders of which are tightly connected with the “authorities”.

“It is terrifying that this terrible state system spreads on the youth,” says Manandyan. “The youth today is being purposely spoilt, used, and tomorrow none of the younger ones can go against or oppose authorities, since they will say wasn’t it you who did this? And they will keep silent as they do now.”

Deputies, ministers, deputy ministers, heads of departments and employees at ministries, representatives of the state and the government, businessmen, members of the central electoral committee and other individuals are on the list of the Top 25, among founders of NGOs and friends and relatives of the founders.

“Only an insignificant part of the organizations is ‘non-governmental’, the rest of the NGOs mainly belong to employees at ministries, while many of them even have two NGOs through which they make money,” says Manandyan. “All of those traces lead to the President, Assistant to the President and the Prime Minister.”

According to Manandyan the information that they received was unpredictable and the uncontrollable waste of the money was surprising. For instance, according to her, 62 million drams ($124,000) was spent on traveling, for which there is no accounting of the reasons for the trips.

“During the study from the very beginning it became obvious that there was no sign of any strategy or any standards of project financing, as well as results’ evaluation. The financed projects are mainly made up, false and the financial means exaggerated,” says Manandyan. “The Project Purpose section repeats in case of several organizations, for instance ‘to assist the improvement of the moral and mental state of the village youth’ and huge amounts are shown for financing the purpose.

“If the ‘village youth’ had those amounts probably their ‘moral and mental state’ would improve without any interference.”

ArmeniaNow applied to the government’s Department on Credit and Humanitarian Aid Projects to ask by what standards and logics grants are issued to youth organizations.

“We cannot answer that question,” said the head of the department, Simon Ter-Simonyan.

Manandyan says their research proved that there isn’t any logic. The only link was and remains the family/friend ties and the tighter they are the bigger the grant is. For instance according to the information provided by the Ministry of Culture the All-Armenian Youth Center Foundation which is included in the Top 25 through two organizations has received during those years more than 99 million ($198,000) and 76 million drams ($152,000) grants. According to Manandyan, four million drams ($8,000) were to establish the center and the rest of the money to maintain the center.

According to Manandyan maintaining the center in this case is mainly limited to holding one or two conferences or seminars during a year.

Among the executive directors there are V. [Vahram] Barseghyan who until last year was the Deputy Minister of Culture [now President Kocharian's controller], A. Poghosyan, a member of CEC (Central Electoral Committee) and others, while among trustees is the Prime Minister and other high ranking officials.

In order to get clarifications ArmeniaNow applied to the All-Armenian Youth Center Foundation, but during two weeks the management said it was too busy to give answers, and later left Armenia for 10 days.

“We carry out seminars, give an opportunity to the youngsters to use the rich library,” said the president of Youth Legal and Social Assistance Center (YLSAC) Lilit Hakobyan. “We help the socially needy youngsters and we are colleagues of the Council of Europe.”

Hakobyan (the previous president Lilit Asatryan is currently the Deputy Minister of Culture and the wife of MP Vazgen Khachikyan) told ArmeniaNow that she cannot give any report for the 10 million drams ($20,000) given by the government during 2001-2003, since she’s been the president of the NGO beginning this year.

“In response to our questions to the Prime Minister, representative of the government Simonyan lectured us not to count the state money ‘since we’re not counting yours’,” says Manandyan. “In reality, all we had to deal with was terrible and I don’t know whether we’ll be able to change anything or not. In any case we will try despite the great obstacles.”

Manandyan says they have published reports of their investigation based on which the prosecution is obliged to start criminal cases.

“If we see that the prosecution also remains silent, we, ourselves, are planning to apply to the court,” she says.

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