By Karine Kalantarian
The oversight arm of Armenia’s parliament reiterated on Friday its strong criticism of the government’s privatization policy, saying that terms of the sale of many state enterprises are flouted by their new owners without any legal consequence.
Gagik Voskanian, chairman of the National Assembly’s Audit Chamber, said the buyers of 17 out of 44 privatized companies inspected by his agency over the past year have failed to respect their contractual obligations relating to investments and new jobs.
Voskanian cited the example of an electronics plant in the town of Ashtarak that was sold to a Russian-registered company last year for $761,000 or less than 9 percent of its original face value estimated by the government. In return for the knockdown price, the buyer pledged to invest $10 million and create 150 jobs in the moribund facility. None of that has happened, according to Voskanian.
The criticism came on the heels of the Audit Chamber’s recent report which concluded that the current privatization policies are not efficient and transparent enough. The chamber found “significant shortcomings” in the sale of remaining state assets carried out since 2000.
Voskanian also singled out the highly controversial privatization of state-run hospitals and other medical facilities which was slammed by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian this summer. The criticism led Armenia’s coalition government, in which Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party is represented, to put the process on hold.
The ambitious speaker, who will turn 35 on Saturday, has called for a more active parliamentary oversight of the executive which many believe would add to his political clout. The Audit Chamber is now inspecting central and local government bodies more frequently, having already submitted 25 different reports to the parliament this year.
But Voskanian complained that although the chamber has urged prosecutors to open criminal cases, it lacks the power to bring about “legal consequences” for its findings.