By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday that an almost 10 percent increase in Armenia’s defense spending envisaged by the government for next year is not enough to meet the military’s needs and should be revised upwards.
The existing version of the government’s draft budget for 2005 would allocate 54 billion drams ($108 million) to the Armenian armed forces, compared to about 50 billion drams budgeted for this year. The spending bill is currently being discussed by the standing committees of the Armenian parliament.
“Discussions are going on and I’m sure there will be certain changes and the government will find a way to raise [the defense allocation],” Sarkisian told reporters after closed-door hearings at the parliament committee on defense and security.
“I am confident that the republic’s government will find a way to allocate enough money to the Armenian army to maintain its combat readiness,” he said.
Sarkisian did not elaborate on how much in additional defense spending the military is seeking. He said only that extra money is primarily needed for underwriting a planned major increase in the salaries of army officers and lower-level commanders.
The draft budget calls for an 18 percent increase in overall public spending which will largely be channeled into social security, health care and education. It is projected to total 375.4 billion drams ($750 million) in 2005.
Sarkisian also confirmed reports that the Armenian government has contracted a Russian company to construct a new building for his ministry. The chief executive of the company called Ingeocom was received by President Robert Kocharian on Tuesday.
Sarkisian claimed that work on the new building will not be financed from the state budget but declined to elaborate. “There will be no budgetary expenditures,” he said. “The whole process will be open and transparent. There will be a government decision and you will be able to familiarize yourself with it.”