Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Ethics in Transformation and the Difficulties in Moving from the Soviet Structure to Independent Republic: Lessons from Armenia

Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Ethics in Transformation and the Difficulties in Moving from the Soviet Structure to Independent Republic: Lessons from Armenia

Article excerpt


This article explores the difficulties surrounding the transformation from a Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Armenia. Using a framework established by Charles Gilbert, it identifies legal, political, and economic forces that influence the administrative behavior of bureaucrats who function in budget offices. Horrendous economic conditions and the lack of a set of professional norms that promote rigorous use of data and condemn bribe taking contribute to placing public budgeting officials in vulnerable ethical settings.


The Republic of Armenia lies in the Southern Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas. It is landlocked and Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey surround it. Since declaring its independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia struggled with a devastated economic situation, a difficult war with neighboring Azerbaijan, a resultant economic and energy blockade imposed and enforced by both Azerbaijan and Turkey, and a difficult transformation from a state controlled economic system to a market-oriented one. It has lost most of its heavy industry, much of it defense related, and the collapse of the Russian Ruble in 1998 severely hurt the nation's economy. Given nearly a decade of effort in transformation of both political and economic systems, what are the implications and consequences for ethics in the public sector? What are the major factors influencing or inhibiting ethical behavior?

This article describes some of the elements of this transformation and the vulnerability of budgetary officials in difficulties with ethical situations. It also discusses is the administrative hangover from the Soviet system of administering programs and the consequences of that in managing a new state under new technological and procedural imperatives. The argument presented here is that there are difficulties that result from the confluence of structures, policies, and processes that inhibited the development of professionalism. This in turn contributes to the lack of responsible, ethical behavior among many government bureaucratic officials.

Charles Gilbert's (Gilbert, 1959) classic piece on Administrative Responsibility provides a framework that allows one to think about multiple sources that help insure responsibility without assessing which mechanism might be better or more appropriate than another. After a tour through a dozen meanings for the term 'responsibility' Gilbert defines a two by two typology of sources for control of bureaucrats to insure responsible behavior. The first dimension of his table is the formal and informal axis. This explores whether the factors are written and institutionalized (formal) or whether they are more on the order of norms and standards that are implicitly adhered to (informal). The second axis is the internal and external one. This dimension explores whether the controls are from within the bureaucratic structure itself (internal) or are imposed from other governmental or political institutions (external). Brief illustrations might be formal rules or hierarchy (internal, formal), judicial or legislative oversight (external, formal), codes of ethics or professional norms (internal, informal), and "grass roots democracy" (external, informal).

Often students and scholars focus on one or the other of these, such as reliance on a code of ethics, or the necessity for strong government oversight. Written in the late 1950s and within an American context, the article presents several interesting factors to consider. The first is the use of a singular factor such as only codes of ethics or oversight sufficient in explaining or insuring responsible behavior. Is only one factor sufficient or are multiple factors at play? The second deals with the applicability of the model beyond the American case. How do the categories apply in a post-soviet context at the turn of a century? How does Gilbert hold up forty years and a continent away from his writing? …

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