By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Leading Armenian opposition parties strongly condemned on Wednesday the controversial sale of national power grids to a little known offshore company, saying that it was the result of the government’s “criminal” and "corrupt" policies.
In a joint statement, the 14 parties indicated that they will annul the $37 million deal if they succeed in removing President Robert Kocharian from power. “We warn the owners of the buyer company that our people will not tolerate the implementation of this illegal deal,” the statement says.
The Armenian Electricity Network’s (AET) takeover by the British-registered Midland Resources Holding has also been criticized by Western donors that, unlike the Armenian opposition, have long pushed for the privatization of the country’s energy sector. The donors, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, argue that Midland Resources has little experience with power distribution and therefore lacks the expertise to restructure the sector.
The Armenian government, however, says that the company has promised to hire a team of experienced energy managers from the West to run the AET. It also argues that the state will no longer cover the huge losses incurred by the power grids.
But opposition leaders alleged that the country’s leadership was either bribed by Midland Resources or secretly owns a part of its stock. “Thanks to this deal, some people put serious sums of money into their pockets,” claimed the leader of the Democratic Party, Aram Sarkisian.
According to Aleksan Karapetian of the National Accord party, the network’s losses, which reportedly hit $60 million last year, are a smokescreen for a widespread theft of electricity by senior government officials. He claimed that some of the embezzled money will go to pay for their election campaigns.
The opposition leaders also effectively backed the donors’ complaints about the selected owner’s lack of appropriate experience. They warned that Midland Resources could therefore fail to maintain around-the-clock electricity supplies in Armenia which were restored in 1996 after several years of severe power shortages.
But a senior member of the parliament and the governing Republican Party (HHK), Gagik Minasian, countered that Midland Resources can easily be sanctioned by the government if it violates the terms of the sell-off. “If the owner doesn’t respect its obligations specified by the agreement, the government has the right to revoke its operating license,” Minasian told RFE/RL.