By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government again failed to push through parliament on Wednesday a bill that would obligate all well-to-do Armenians to regularly declare their personal incomes and other assets.
The bill, which is aimed at complicating widespread tax evasion, has been bogged down in the National Assembly for nearly two years, meeting with strong resistance from some wealthy lawmakers. The government has so far only managed to have it passed in the first reading.
Only 47 of the 131 members of the assembly voted to pass it in the second reading. The proposed legislation is openly opposed by the Orinats Yerkir party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. One of the nine Orinats Yerkir deputies, Hovannes Markarian, insisted that “Armenian society is not ready” for mass income declarations.
Also refusing to back it are the 17 ostensibly independent deputies making up the People’s Deputy group. All of them are wealthy businessmen loyal to the country’s leadership.
Armen Alaverdian, deputy head of the State Taxation Service, said the government will again put the bill to the parliament vote soon. “We have to work with those factions to find out reasons for their opposition,” he told RFE/RL.
Armenia already has a law on financial disclosure that covers only the president of the republic, all members of the parliament, ministers and other senior government officials. But the law has proved largely meaningless, with most senior officials grossly understating their assets in annual income declarations filed with tax authorities. The latter have no right to check the veracity of those statements.
The government bill would extend mandatory income declaration to all those citizens who earn at least 500,000 drams ($1,160) a month, or ten times more than the official average salary in the country. President Robert Kocharian’s former anti-corruption adviser, Bagrat Yesayan, has been one of the strongest supporters of the measure. Yesayan has argued that a much broader financial disclosure would enable the authorities to uncover expensive property which is owned by corrupt government officials but is officially registered in their relatives’ names.