168 Hours Newspaper Article – 31st October 2007
"We know that project goals were changed, bonuses were paid for achieving standards much lower than those originally specified, assets used for security were over-valued, revenue went unreported, and a fundamental conflict of interest existed at YWSC, among other things. So I would say that Mr. Tasker’s allegations are incriminating". – Dr. Beatrice Edwards, GAP’s Director of International Programs, replied to questions submitted by 168 Hours news.
"Mr. Tasker’s Demands are Incriminating"
Says Dr. Beatrice Edwards, Director for International Programs of the American freedom of speech organization the Government Accountability Project (GAP).
Referring to the first project for improvement of Yerevan's water services, the interest in the claims of irregularities in the 32 million dollar World Bank credit project continues to grow for a number of international organizations. Reiterating that the British engineer Bruce Tasker, who worked for the Armenian Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Commission for studying the effective use of credits, grants and humanitarian assistance received by Armenia, asserted that there were project irregularities and wrongdoings of values up to several tens of millions of dollars. We have reported how these claims of irregularities and wrongdoings are of interest to GAP and to the UK Serious Fraud Office. The claims are also of concern to the UK Government and to the British Embassy in Armenia, because they are made against the Yerevan office of the World Bank, which at that time was managed by a British citizen, Mr. Roger Robinson. During the interview with the 168 Hours newspaper, Mr. Anthony Cantor, the British Ambassador in Armenia, said the UK has a law on bribery and corruption under which every British embassy throughout the World must inform the Government "of all claims regarding bribery, corruption and embezzlement that has been perpetrated by any British citizen or any British organization".
Yesterday we heard that Tasker’s claims of irregularities are also of interest to the British Bretton Woods Project, a similar organization in the UK to GAP in America. It is that British organization, through its interest in the action, which submitted details to the UK’s highly influential ‘Observer’ newspaper, prompting its report on Mr. Tasker’s continued requests for the World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity (INT) to respond to his claim and instigate an investigation. The UK also has the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bretton Woods Project has advised Tasker on how he could inform DFID of his claims, knowing that they have been assessed by GAP. Representatives of DFID will be in Washington from 25th to 29th November at meetings with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Discussions will include the provision of DFID funds through the World Bank. The United Kingdom is one of the World Bank’s major donor countries and the UK 's representatives will be in Washington deciding on the provision of funds for use by the World Bank in developing countries. The World Bank is presently seeking to increase its finance capability, and donor countries, including the United Kingdom, are deciding whether it is reasonable to increase funding to the World Bank. DFID is to determine whether funding through the World Bank would be effective for it's development programs. According to our information, Dr. Edwards is planning to meet with the DFID representatives to discuss Tasker’s claims associated with the World Bank 32 million dollar project for improving Yerevan’s water system.
Dr. Edwards wrote that, at the meetings during last weeks World Bank/IMF conference there were people interested in ‘public-private partnerships’ and one session specifically addressed privatization in the water and electricity sectors. GAP distributed information about Tasker’s allegations to those who attended.
Mr Tasker added that, after publication of the 168 Hours 18th October newspaper article titled ‘100 Million Dollar Manipulation’, Mr. Aristomes Varoudakis, head of the World Bank Yerevan office, agreed to his request for a meeting. According to the British engineer, he has been asking for that meeting since May, but without success. But now Mr. Varoudakis has agreed to a meeting after he returns from his upcoming trip to Washington. Could this be a sign that the World Bank has started to take more care about their future publications related to the claims of irregularities?
In addition, the 30th September Observer article also brought the action to the attention of the Armenian Prime Minister Serge Sargsyan, who said “we will return again to this question, because the opinion of the British engineer is important for us”. Mr. Tasker has asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister so that he can, in his words “present a more correct and detailed explanation of the claims of irregularities”.
Last week the 168 Hours newspaper wrote to Dr. Beatrice Edwards to ask whether GAP considers the documents provided by Bruce Tasker are sufficient to prove his assertions of irregularities in the World Bank project. In reply to our questions Dr. Edwards wrote: “much of what the Bank claims for the project is a ‘half-truth. The Bank claims that 70% of Yerevan households now have ‘continuous service.’ But we then learn that the Bank is classifying 18 hours of water service a day as ‘continuous”.
We bring to your attention our questions and answers with Dr. Beatrice Edwards
Dr. Edwards, is GAP sure that the supporting documents are sufficient to prove Tasker’s assertions?
“The documentation is compelling. We have not heard any explanation from the Bank about the reasons for so many irregularities in the project. Nor has the Bank explained why the “Implementation Completion Report” (essentially a final evaluation) grossly inflated the project’s achievements. This is why we have asked so insistently for an investigation. Until there is an investigation, of course, and the pertinent questions are asked of the people responsible for the project, we cannot say that Mr. Tasker’s allegations are ‘proven.”
“We know that project goals were changed, bonuses were paid for achieving standards much lower than those originally specified, assets used for security were over-valued, revenue went unreported, a fundamental conflict of interest existed at YWSC, among other things. (we wrote all about this in our previous article) So I would say that Mr. Tasker’s allegations are incriminating”.
Dr. Edwards, What expectations do you have from INT?
What answers have you received so far?
Is GAP happy with how the INT is handling Mr. Tasker's case?
“Not at all. Originally, we believed that INT would investigate the MDP and the officials responsible for it. INT, however, responded to our request for an investigation by classifying the allegations as ‘medium priority.’ Originally we thought that this meant the project would be investigated, but we now understand that ‘medium priority’ allegations are not investigated unless new evidence is provided. We have asked INT to explain the criteria used to identify these allegations as medium priority, and we are waiting for the department’s response. In the event, though, that INT undertakes an investigation, I believe that Mr. Tasker will have to be involved in the process on an ongoing basis”.
Dr. Edwards, please describe GAP’s powers and authorities in details. Is GAP able to obligate WB to be accountable for its violations? If I am not mistaken, the violations on the part of the WB president have been discovered by GAP, as a result of which he was dismissed from his position this year.
“GAP is a law firm and a non-governmental organization in Washington, D.C. We protect whistleblowers, such as Mr. Tasker, when their rights are violated by corrupt actors in the public, private and intergovernmental sectors. In a national setting, we represent whistleblowers in court or in legal negotiations. In the matter of Paul Wolfowitz, we served as a conduit of allegations about his corrupt conduct to the press and to certain members of the World Bank Board. A staff member inside the Bank sent us documentation showing that Mr. Wolfowtiz had arranged for his girlfriend to be substantially overpaid. We made this information public. The Wolfowitz case was determined to be a corrupt act and for that reason in spring this year he was relieved of his duties. GAP played a not unimportant role throughout that process”.
To end this article, I would like to inform our readers that Mr. Tasker, through his work for the ah-hoc commission, also studied the Government’s ‘Integrated Finance Rehabilitation Plan’, which was designed to gather together all outstanding state debts in the electricity sector and to determine the best way for them to be eliminated. According to Mr Tasker, the authorized representative of A. Utilities, Mr. Richard Walkling, and his continued financial wrongdoings were associated with this program, and what is not unimportant is that GAP has also compelling documents related to that activity.
168 Hours Reporter