By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian parliament ended on Thursday week-long debates on the government’s draft budget for next year, leaving a good chance for its passage next week.
Most parliamentary factions signaled their overall support for the bill, despite many misgivings and criticism of its various indicators. Only the pro-government Miasnutyun faction, the biggest in the National Assembly, publicly committed itself to voting for the budget though. The vote is scheduled for Monday.
The deputies have until Sunday to submit their amendments in the proposed spending bill to the finance ministry. Some of them have already done so. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said the government will reject most of those proposals because they would lead to 16 billion drams ($29 million) in extra expenditures. He argued that the government can not afford them.
The budget proposed by the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian projects a sizable increase in revenues next year, but would still keep public spending at a modest level. The bill calls for 257 billion drams ($460 million) in expenditures and 214 billion drams in revenues. The resulting deficit of 43 billion drams -- or 3.6 percent of GDP -- represents a 22 percent decrease from this year’s level.
Opposition lawmakers argued that the government could collect far more revenues by tapping the huge informal sector of the economy. They said the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian lacks the will and a clear strategy to fight the widespread tax evasion.
Representatives of pro-government factions conceded that the volume 2002 budget is too small mitigate enormous socioeconomic problems facing the country. The leader of the non-partisan People’s Deputy group, Vahram Baghdasarian, said: “Whether or not this budget is passed will not make a difference because it would barely allow us to survive.”