By Anna Saghabalian and Astghik Bedevian
An independent parliament deputy on Tuesday accused the state regulatory body of exceeding its powers by setting an unreasonably high tariff for natural gas.
Manuk Gasparian, an outspoken independent lawmaker known for his hard-hitting attacks on the government, claimed during a debate with a representative of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) that in setting the tariffs the Commission was more concerned with the interests of Armenia’s gas supplier, ArmRosgazprom, than the interests of ordinary people and the industry.
“We say that gas is not politics. But I think it is. Why should Belarus get gas for $46 from Russia? It means that the Russian state makes this discount, and we are strategic partners. I find that the price should not exceed $85,” Gasparian said.
The PSRC sanctioned a drastic increase in the price of natural gas supplied to individual and industrial consumers in Armenia on March 10, citing Russia’s recent decision to double its gas tariff for Armenia – from current $56 to $110 per a thousand cubic meters.
The move indicated the failure of the Armenian government’s three-month efforts to have the Russians reverse or at least scale back the price hike.
The highly unpopular measure is also expected to push up the retail price of electricity.
Gasparian is confident that the Russian state-owned Gazprom Company will lower the selling price of natural gas for Armenia as a result of negotiations. He challenged the Commission on that account, as by Armenian laws, tariffs set by the PSRC are not subject to reconsideration for at least half a year.
In the deputy’s opinion, the Commission used wrong calculation in setting the tariff. “Lowering the tariff for households from 108 drams to 90 was a game, a political show,” Gasparian said, asserting a secret agreement on that account between ARG and the PSRC.
Meanwhile, PSRC Deputy Chairman Nikolay Grigorian defended the new tariffs and said they will reflect the real situation after the Russian gas becomes more expensive at the border. “We will have more expensive gas purchased for $110 at the border, and it will get more expensive before it reaches consumers, hence the new tariffs,” Grigorian said, emphasizing that the Commission did not violate a single point of the current legislation.
“If you find any point of the law that was violated by the Commission, I will resign immediately,” Grigorian promised to the media.
At the same time, he said that continuing negotiations with the Russian side are unlikely to result in any reduction of the already agreed price of Russian gas for Armenia. “If a new agreement is signed, it will be a miracle,” the PSRC’s official concluded.
Meanwhile, Deputy Parliament Speaker Vahan Hovannisian, who returned from the Moscow sitting of the Armenian-Russian commission for inter-parliamentary cooperation, expressed the opinion that it is possible that the ongoing negotiations at all levels around the gas price will yield a result. He said the Armenian delegation had made it clear to the Russian side that these developments create anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia.
“The Russian side seriously tried to explain to us that the increase in the gas price for Armenia is not Russia’s desire, but a forced measure after Georgia declared that the price must be equal to all countries of our region and that it will undertake certain measures if it is not provided,” he said.
Hovannisian said the Russians took the Armenian concerns with understanding.