By Atom Markarian
The government failed on Wednesday to push through parliament a bill that would extend the mandatory disclosure of personal income and property, currently restricted to state officials, to all Armenians making at least 3 million drams ($5,455) a year.
The government described the measure as an important element of its stated efforts to curb widespread tax evasion and corruption. It lacked only three votes to have the draft law approved by the National Assembly in the first reading.
The parliament, dominated by government loyalists, voted 62 to 1 in favor of the bill. But under Armenian law it was deemed to have been rejected as less than half of the 131 deputies took part in the voting. The continuing politically motivated boycott of parliament sessions by the opposition minority was one of the reasons for the lack of a quorum.
The bill met with little resistance from the lawmakers as it was presented by the deputy chief of the State Taxation Service, Armen Alaverdian. Some of them voiced objections against requiring income declaration from residents of rural areas of the country.
“I don’t think we must differentiate between city and village residents when counting their money,” Alaverdian said. “Villagers too earn income.”
Another deputy, Vram Gyurzadian of the governing Orinats Yerkir Party, questioned the rationale of the whole undertaking, arguing that the mandatory financial disclosure, first introduced in 2002 for some 3,000 high-ranking government officials, judges and parliament deputies, has not produced desired effects.
The existing law is widely believed to have made little difference, with many government ministers and other high-level officials grossly underreporting their and their close relatives’ conspicuous wealth. The law does not empower tax authorities to check the accuracy of the their income declarations. It was amended last year to encompass lower-level civil servants, law-enforcement officers and employees of tax collection agencies.
As many as 120,000 officials were due to file their financial statements with the tax authorities in the course of 2003. But according to Alaverdian, only 47,000 actually did so. He said some 1,200 officials were fined 50,000 drams each for missing the April 15 deadline last year and another 800 officials this year.