By Hrach Melkumian
The largest factions of the Armenian parliament voiced on Friday their overall approval of a major tariff agreement signed by the government and the ArmenTel telecommunications operator. But opposition groups denounced the deal, saying that the government backtracked on its pledge to block the per-minute charging of local phone calls.
The compromise deal negotiated by Justice Minister David Harutiunian was formally approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Thursday. It put an end to a dispute over ArmenTel’s plans to introduce the new billing system.
Galust Sahakian, leader of the largest Miasnutyun faction supporting the government, welcomed the settlement which he said is based on mutual concessions. Sahakian said the new phone charges, effective from next month, will be “affordable” for most Armenians.
He at the same time urged the executive to continue to press for the abolition of ArmenTel’s legal monopoly on telecom services.
Deputies from another major government backer, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), gave a similar assessment. One of them, Martun Matevosian, said the new, more complicated tariff structure will come at a “minimal cost” for the population. He also stressed the fact that the parties avoided a court action.
However, opposition lawmakers were very critical of the settlement touted as a big success by Harutiunian. “The government has failed to make good on its promise that the per-minute charging will not be enforced,” Gagik Tadevosian of the Communist Party told RFE/RL. But he did acknowledge that the new payment system will be introduced on more favorable terms for Armenian phone users.
This fact was brushed aside by Arshak Sadoyan, one of the most outspoken opposition deputies and a bitter critic of ArmenTel. Sadoyan said he will soon reintroduce draft legislation to the National Assembly banning the per-minute billing.