New Internationalist

Skulduggery

Issue 406

Fuelling corruption in Armenia

It all seemed to be on the up and up for Bruce Tasker. In 2004, he was invited to become a special consultant to an Armenian parliamentary commission examining the use of $3 billion in international donor funds. He accepted the invitation – but he never could have guessed what would happen next.

The Armenian capital, Yerevan, was used as a case study for the World Bank-funded $30 million Municipal Development Project to improve its water supplies. Tasker, a veteran British development worker, and his team discovered not only project failure but also an administration riddled with corruption, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

So, taking the Bank’s stated concern with corruption in the former Soviet Republic at face value, Tasker reported his findings, not only to the parliamentary commission, but also to the Bank’s office in Yerevan. Rather than act upon the commission’s interim findings, Tasker says that the Bank turned on him.

Alleging that he was blacklisted by the Bank for reporting the illegalities, Tasker believes pressure was applied on the Government to prevent full public disclosure. He claims that taking the matter further would have revealed colossal fraud and corruption and that all the players, including senior government officials and foreign workers, would lose out. ‘The World Bank is fuelling corruption in Armenia,’ Tasker told New Internationalist.

Despite the documented allegations, no action has been taken – including by the World Bank’s own internal watchdog, the Department for International Integrity (INT). The allegations against the Bank and British nationals involved in the project were, however, reported by Tasker to the British Embassy, which informed the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and, in turn, the Serious Fraud Office.

In March 2007, the Washington-based watchdog Government Accountability Project (GAP) took up Tasker’s cause and filed its own complaint with the INT in the hope that an investigation into the documented cases of corruption and fraud would be launched.

When the INT finally responded this August, it gave no indication as to when it would investigate the matter. According to INT, the case was considered to be of ‘medium’ priority and dependent on ‘the availability of investigative resources’. The letter came just days before GAP released its annual report on the INT. The Armenian case was singled out for specific criticism.

Tasker jokes about the INT’s reluctance to investigate the matter: ‘I should consider myself fortunate… the low priority cases are simply filed away with no further action’. Following on from the forced resignation of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, this new revelation hammers yet more nails into the coffin of the Bank’s credibility. Self-righteous finger-wagging should start at home.

Onnik Krikorian

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