By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Atom Markarian
The Armenian government narrowly secured on Thursday a parliamentary endorsement of its privatization policy that has been condemned as shady by National Assembly speaker Artur Baghdasarian and his Orinats Yerkir Party.
The assembly voted by 65 to 9, with ten abstentions, to approve a government report on the sale of state-owned enterprises and other assets between 2001 and 2004. The move followed two days of heated parliament debates that sparked a fresh row between Orinats Yerkir and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK).
Baghdasarian and his loyalists challenged the integrity of the process, arguing that 70 percent of 69 entities put up for sale during that period were privatized without competitive biddings. In a clear attack on the HHK, they publicly embarrassed Karine Kirakosian, head of the government’s Department on State Property Management close to Markarian, as she addressed the parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday. “They insulted me, but that’s their problem,” Kirakosian told RFE/RL afterwards.
Markarian and senior HHK lawmakers rejected the accusations, saying that they are part of Orinats Yerkir’s efforts to score political points ahead of next year’s parliamentary election. They also argued that Baghdasarian is represented in the government with three ministers and none of them has ever protested against the privatization.
Opposition deputies were quick to exploit the latest embarrassing scandal within President Robert Kocharian’s governing coalition. “In normal civilized countries, if a political force represented in the government speaks out against a government bill, the government seeks a vote of confidence,” said Victor Dallakian of the Artarutyun alliance.
The Orinats Yerkir ministers apparently did not voice any objections during a cabinet meeting on Thursday which endorsed the privatization of 64 other state entities handled by the Department on State Property Management last year. Kirakosian’s deputy Ashot Markosian downplayed the fact that most of them were likewise sold without a tender and at knock-down prices.
“The top priority in the privatization process is not so much the price as investments and jobs [promised by the buyers],” Markosian told reporters. Nearly 3,700 new jobs have already been created at enterprises privatized last year, he said without giving concrete examples.
The parliament also approved on Thursday the government’s next privatization program which covers some 300 mainly small entities and is due to be implemented by the end of next year. Kirakosian said the program will complete a long-running process that began in 1990. In her words, the private sector already accounts for 84 percent of Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product.