By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government pushed its proposed budget for next year through parliament on Thursday after increasing its projected expenditures by 6 billion drams ($10.7 million) to placate some pro-government deputies that threatened to scuttle the bill.
The final version of the 2004 budget calls for 287 billion drams ($508 million) in revenues and 317.5 billion drams in expenditures, or slightly less than had been budgeted for this year. It was passed by the National Assembly in conjunction with a package of government amendments to Armenia’s tax legislation which are aimed at combating corporate tax evasion.
Deputies from various parliament faction submitted hundreds of budgetary proposals that, if accepted, would have committed the executive to as much as 20 billion drams in additional spending. The three-party cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian made it clear as recently as last Tuesday that it can only agree to one tenth of the sum.
The unexpected softening of its position appears to have followed last-minute consultations between Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) and its two junior coalition partners. Deputies representing one of them, the Orinats Yerkir Party, were particularly critical of the initial spending allocations and the taxation changes appended to them.
Sources told RFE/RL that President Robert Kocharian met the Orinats Yerkir leader and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on Wednesday to warn him against attempting to disrupt the bill’s passage. The information was effectively confirmed by another senior Orinats Yerkir lawmaker, Samvel Balasanian. He also indicated that the increase in the 2004 expenditures was a concession to his party which has the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament.
Despite the overall drop in the planned expenditures, the government plans to spend more on education, health care and social programs next year through a 16 percent increase in its tax revenues.
Still, the Armenian military will remain the single largest recipient of the scarce public funds. Its official budget will grow by 12 percent to 49.6 billion drams ($87 million) in 2004. Its huge relative size reflects Armenia’s unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
(Photolur photo: Markarian, right, talking to his coalition partners in parliament on Thursday.)