By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian opposition’s first attempt to invalidate a recent tariff agreement between the government and the ArmenTel operator failed after the pro-government majority in the parliament thwarted a debate on the issue late on Wednesday.
Opposition factions, which have rejected the compromise deal, sought an amendment in Armenia’s law on telecommunications that would ban the Greek-controlled company from charging most phone users for every minute of local calls. Their petition demanding an emergency session of the National Assembly was signed by 48 deputies, enough to force debate on the parliament floor.
But the session did not take place after the 131-member assembly did not make a quorum, in what appeared to be a deliberate effort to ward off any challenge against the government.
Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who personally negotiated the agreement with ArmenTel, rejected opposition criticism during the government’s weekly question-and-answer session earlier in the day. Harutiunian reiterated his view that the government could not prevent the introduction of per-minute charging under the terms of ArmenTel’s purchase by the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) in 1998.
Most members of an ad hoc parliamentary commission investigating alleged abuses in the Armenian telecom sector have effectively sided with the government on the issue. Its chairman, Vazgen Manukian of the opposition National Democratic Union (AZhM), has also refused to sign the opposition petition.
The new billing system, effective from February 1, is only applicable to subscribers to digital phone stations. The main author of the opposition bill, Arshak Sadoyan, believes that it creates “unequal conditions” for phone users and is therefore unfair. Sadoyan and most opposition lawmakers say ArmenTel should not be allowed to enforce per-minute charges until it digitalizes all phone stations.