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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Covering Up Potholes Doesn't Fix Corruption

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Corrupt activities in the developing world -- government ministers controlling local industry cash cows, traffic cops shaking down random motorists for a buck or two, tax inspectors squeezing small businesses until they bleed -- tend to be homegrown.

But abuse of power in Armenia is often exacerbated by the misguided and naive efforts of foreign do-gooders, including wealthy outsiders with a few teaspoons of Armenian blood.

Take the Lincy Foundation. Back in June 2000, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan lobbied Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who is of Armenian descent, for handouts.

Tell us what you want, Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation said, as the candy cupboard door swung open.

Three years and $165 million later downtown Yerevan has spanking new sidewalks, bigger highways and fewer potholes. There's better tourism infrastructure, and people hit by a 1988 earthquake now have a permanent roof over their heads.

One of the greatest beneficiaries was Kocharyan, who was happy to take credit for the improvements during his re-election campaign last year.

Never mind that the money spent amounted to more than twice the total annual health care budget for 2003. Fresh blacktop is nice, but so are doctors and medicines.

And many of the new roads were riddled with potholes in under a year, thanks to shoddy workmanship by contractors handpicked by the government.

While the Lincy Foundation certainly helped the economy in the short term, it missed a golden opportunity to try to bring about sustainable, long-term growth by investing in the country's economy.

Often, foreign investors in Armenia -- usually diaspora Armenians -- let their feelings overrule business sense. They buy into ideas, sometimes sold to them by selfish and arrogant government bureaucrats, that wouldn't warrant a moment's consideration back home.

Other times, diaspora investors cut sweetheart deals with the government, thereby destructively promulgating the culture of corruption. Instead of being a force for change, they sometimes wind up propagating the same old corrupt system.

Yes, it could be worse. Transparency International ranked Armenia 78th out of 133 countries surveyed in its Corruption Perceptions Index. This compares with, say, Russia (86th), or Azerbaijan and Georgia (tied at 124th).

But comparing yourself with some of the ugliest kids on the block doesn't make you pretty. And it could be so much better, if only the do-gooders looked in the mirror once in a while.

Kim Iskyan, a freelance journalist and consultant based in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.