By Armen Zakarian
The controversy surrounding the ongoing privatization of Armenia’s medical facilities took a new turn on Thursday when a senior lawmaker claimed that the process, criticized by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, has been suspended by Health Minister Norayr Davidian.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party and chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, contradicted a Wednesday statement by the head of the government’s Committee on State Property. The official, David Vartanian, dismissed Baghdasarian’s criticism, saying that the government will continue to privatize public hospitals and policlinics.
“The issue is being discussed by the minister of health, the government and the president of the republic for a long time,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “The minister, who represents our party, is dealing with this issue in earnest, and a solution has already been found. He has suspended the privatization for the time being.”
Similar comments were made the previous night by Gagik Mkheyan, the chairman of the parliament committee on social affairs, health care and environment. Mkheyan is affiliated with Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, which makes up the governing coalition together with Dashnaktsutyun and the Republican Party of Armenia.
It is not clear whether minister Davidian, who is a member of Dashnaktsutyun, has the authority to single-handedly suspend the privatization process concerning his area of responsibility. The 32 medical institutions slated for privatization are on the list of states assets which are due to be sold off in the coming years in accordance with a government program approved by the National Assembly in 2001. Vartanian said only some of the might be removed from the list.
In an unusual statement on Monday, Baghdasarian said that the process is making health care even more inaccessible to the cash-strapped population and should therefore be halted. His overt interference in the government’s work was indirectly rebuffed by Rustamian who implied that the speaker should have raised his concerns with the “coordinating council” of the three coalition parties before making them public. Rustamian also stressed that the issue was placed on the government agenda before Baghdasarian’s statement.