By Shakeh Avoyan
A senior official attributed on Thursday the Armenian parliament’s refusal to endorse the government’s privatization policy to infighting in the three-party governing coalition.
The government on Wednesday failed to secure the otherwise loyal National Assembly’s formal approval of its report on the implementation in 2002 of a three-year privatization program launched in 2001. The largely symbolic move was blocked by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s two junior coalition partners -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party.
According to the head of the government’s main privatization agency, David Vartanian, the report’s rejection was politically motivated. “It had nothing to do with the content of the report,” he told RFE/RL. “I think that there are some problems inside the coalition.”
The lawmakers’ rebuff followed recent strong criticism of the government’s privatization policy made by the legislature’s Audit Chamber. Its own report released in October claimed “significant shortcomings” in the long-running sale of state assets, saying that the process is not transparent and competitive. The chamber said this is the reason why the average entity was privatized at less than a fifth of its face value set by Vartanian’s Committee on State Property Management.
Vartanian rejected the criticism, reiterating his arguments that the remaining state-run enterprises are unattractive to private investors, making it extremely difficult to auction them off. He again complained that their face value was set too high.
Vartanian further hinted that Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir, which is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, attack the privatization practices because they would like to replace him by one of their loyalists.
Orinats Yerkir and Vartanian, who is backed by Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), were already at odds last summer after Baghdasarian publicly demanded a halt to the privatization of public hospitals and other medical facilities. The 35-year-old speaker, often accused of populism, also instructed the Audit Chamber to step up periodical inspections of various government agencies.
The chamber is headed by Gagik Voskanian, a member of Orinats Yerkir.
(Photolur photo: Markarian exchanging words with three cabinet members representing the HHK, Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir in parliament on Wednesday.)