Tucked away in the mountainous region between Asia and Europe, Armenia underwent a quiet and peaceful revolution last year. Led by the current Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, thousands took to the streets in civil disobedience over rigged elections, and persecution of opposition parties.
The new government now wants to continue on this wave of support with more civic engagement in the policy-making process, says Eduard Aghajanyan, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
The administration wants to do this by moving towards a digital government for greater accountability, and actively engaging the population in policy decisions, he tells GovInsider on the sidelines of the Open Government Partnership, in Ottawa, Canada.
Digital government for transparency
The government wants to weed out corruption by having a centralised digital platform to increase accountability and transparency. The shared platform will ensure that data can be accessed within the government without modifications, and accurate information can be shared with citizens.
One of the biggest problems within the Armenian government, he explains, is that ministries are reluctant to share information with each other. This slows down government processes internally and presents an inaccurate picture of what is happening for citizens. Describing what a centralised digital government would mean, he says it will “provide information to intergovernmental bodies, as well as to the final users – citizens.”
Another area the government is looking to digital tools is in collecting feedback from Armenians. Post-revolution, the feedback system within the government “literally collapsed” says Aghajanyan, as letters flooded in from citizens. It wants the process to be fully digitised so that these can be collated and used to make and tailor more citizen-centric policies.
Citizen assembly for public policies
To continue its reform and retain support from Armenians, the government is looking at ways to actively engage citizens in the decision-making process. It wants to create a commission with government representatives, members of parliament, and civil society to not only discuss policies, but also work on legislation, reveals Aghajanyan.
While it is still unclear how the commission is going to work, Aghajanyan is confident it will be formed in the next few months. He says there have already been a few meetings with all three parties involved, and it is going in a “very productive and constructive direction.”
Meanwhile, the European Union is also supporting the Armenian government in civic engagement. It released an updated roadmap this year, detailing how it is going to support the country in monitoring and carrying out policy dialogues, and also the legal framework needed for an enabling environment.
The revolution has galvanised an entire country to participate in the future of their country. And Aghajanyan says “making them take part in the decision-making process is key to sustainable governance.”
Higher pay for civil servants
The country needs to raise civil service salaries to attract professionals to work in the government, believes Aghajanyan. Most young professionals are drawn to higher paying jobs in the private sector. “We need professionals in the government,” he says, “to actually carry out those reforms, and bring new ideas.” Higher salaries would motivate civil servants to work and take fewer bribes, he believes.
In a country with massive inequality and where 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, this is a difficult conversation to have. Recently, an announcement of a district leader handing out bonuses to his staff and himself sparked a backlash from citizens.
After 20 years of Republican party rule, Armenians asking “questions that haven’t been discussed in Armenian society for quite a long time,” says Aghajanyan, and there are now sky-high expectations on whether the government can fulfill its promises.
In recent signs of trouble, the country’s Justice Minister, Artak Zeynalyan, resigned earlier this week amid calls for judicial reforms. Meanwhile, the country’s anti-corruption head, Davit Sanasaryan, has been accused of corruption.
The quiet exit of the previous administration was a big win for Armenia, but work has only just started for the new government, which must now navigate carefully between populism and the long-term welfare of the country.