By Atom Markarian
The National Assembly ended on Monday three-day debates on the Armenian government’s draft budget for next year that calls for an almost 20 percent increase in public spending.
With 381 billion drams ($853 million) in projected revenues and 451 billion drams in expenditures, the proposed budget would pass the $1 billion mark for the first time since Armenia’s independence, a fact emphasized by ministers and leaders of the parliament’s pro-government majority.
“This draft budget has a social orientation. For the first time in its [post-Soviet] history, Armenia’s budget will surpass the $1 billion mark,” said Samvel Balasanian, a senior lawmaker from speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir party.
But Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party, sounded a note of caution. “We are not saying that everything is good and rosy,” he said. “Even if there has been positive change, people see misery in the first instance. Even many well-to-do people are downbeat because they do not feel protected.”
The opposition minority made it clear that it will vote against the bill. Tatul Manaserian of the Artarutyun alliance said the projected increase in government revenues and expenditures is insufficient given the huge size of the informal sector of the Armenian economy and rampant government corruption. He said the authorities should tax “thieves, clans and those whose greed has no limits” in earnest.
But Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian vehemently defended the budget, saying that it was developed by world-class specialists from his ministry. “Our specialists now read lectures in Eastern Europe on budget planning,” he told lawmakers. “International organizations highly appreciate their work. Thank God, everyone now has access to the Internets and can see what is going on.”
Under Armenian law, factions and individual members of the 131-member assembly have 24 hours to submit relevant proposals to the government. The government will respond by submitting the final version of the spending bill. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has already ruled out significant changes in his cabinet’s budgetary projections.