By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament approved on Wednesday a drastic increase in salaries of the most high-ranking state officials after the controversial measure was watered down by the government.
A government bill, passed in the first reading, will double the wages of the country’s president, government ministers, parliament deputies and judges next year. Its original version, criticized as unfair and profligate by many lawmakers, envisaged an even bigger pay increase.
President Robert Kocharian, who currently gets an equivalent of $350 a month, will be paid about $700 starting from next July if he stays in office as a result of the February presidential elections. The government had initially proposed to raise his salary to $1,000.
Ordinary members of the National Assembly will see their monthly income double to just over $500 or 10 percent less than the new salaries of senior parliamentarians, government ministers and top judges. Lower-level judges will get $410.
The reduction of the pay increase came after Kocharian urged the government through a spokesman to exercise “restraint” on the matter. Officials said it will allow the executive to save 180 million drams ($307,000) in next year’s budget.
Some deputies still find the measure unacceptable, criticizing the government for not extending it to all public sector employees whose salary averages less than $40. “It is inadmissible for government officials to raise their wages without taking into account ordinary people’s living conditions,” said Arshak Sadoyan, an outspoken opposition lawmaker.
But according to parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, the existing salaries are too low for the deputies. “A deputy is a quite high-ranking official,” he told RFE/RL. “It is very embarrassing when he can not afford buying a decent suit or meet his other basic needs.”
“I know that many deputies count days left before payment of their next salaries,” Khachatrian claimed.
Many members of the 131-strong legislature are wealthy businessmen with close ties to the government. None of them would comment on Wednesday on the wisdom of the salary increase.
Other beneficiaries of the bill approved by the parliament are 3,500 or so employees of the government’s tax and customs departments. Their average salary excluding regular hefty bonuses has been doubled to $120. The government argued that the officials responsible for the collection of budget revenues will now be less prone to indulge in corrupt practices.