By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian parliament opened on Wednesday debates on a bill that would give more powers to local governments, one of the conditions for Armenia’s membership of the Council of Europe.
The legislation, if approved, will make it more difficult for government-appointed provincial governors to dismiss elected heads of smaller communities. It also seeks to shore up local budgets by increasing their share in tax revenues.
Under the existing law enacted in 1996, taxes on land and property, fixed "state tariffs," and 15 percent of income and profit taxes collected in a community go directly to its budget. This means that over two thirds of local funds come from the central government in the form of annual subsidies. The new bill, jointly drafted by a parliament committee and the presidential administration, would double the share of profit tax automatically allocated to a municipal or rural community.
Under another provision, opposed by the government, reserves two percent of the value-added tax for local budgets.
Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian said the bill represents a step in the right direction but is not far-reaching enough for reforming Armenia’s highly centralized government system. “The new [draft] law on local government is a step forward, but is far from being satisfactory,” Nazarian told a news conference. “It won’t allow me to implement measures which I think are necessary.”
The mayor, who is appointed by President Robert Kocharian in accordance with the Armenian constitution, complained that Yerevan municipality is hamstrung by the lack of powers and financial resources.
The bill debated by the National Assembly calls for greater authority to be vested in the mayor’s office, including the right to have its own budget. But Nazarian voiced skepticism at the proposed changes and called for passage of separate legislation giving the Armenian capital a higher status and making the post of mayor elective. “I would feel more confident if I was elected and had my budget,” he said.
The comment could put Nazarian at odds with Kocharian who is against the idea of Yerevan having an elected mayor. The presidential commission on constitutional reform, which suggested a package of amendments in Armenia’s basic law earlier this year, believes that the Yerevan mayor should continue to be appointed by the head of state.