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By Atom Markarian

Minister for State Revenues Yervand Zakharian claimed on Tuesday a drastic improvement in tax collection during the first nine months of the year, saying that the government’s crackdown on the huge shadow economy is bearing fruits.

Zakharian said his agency collected 75.5 billion drams ($132.5 million) in various taxes or 33.5 percent more than during the same period last year. He attributed the increase to continuing economic growth and improved tax administration.

The government’s customs department, for its part, raised 65.5 billion drams from import duties from January through September, putting the aggregate state revenues at 141 billion drams. This is slightly more than was projected by Armenia’s 2002 budget.

Zakharian said the tax authorities will meet their annual tax target of 105.5 billion drams and are able to ensure a further 10 percent rise in their revenues next year. He said they will continue to clamp down on widespread tax evasion.

The improved fiscal performance followed strong criticism voiced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last year. The IMF released last week $26 million in additional loans to Armenia frozen one year ago over its government’s worse-than-expected collection of budgetary revenues. The fund praised the authorities for achieving "some positive results" in addressing its concerns.

At just over 14 percent of GDP, the level of taxes and customs duties collected in Armenia each year is among the lowest in the former Soviet Union. It is a major reason why many Armenians do not feel benefits of continuing economic growth.
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