By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian made a fresh blistering attack on Armenia’s tax and customs authorities on Wednesday, saying they have failed to combat tax evasion, corruption within their ranks and privileged treatment enjoyed by some businessmen.
Kocharian voiced the strongly worded criticism at a meeting attended by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the heads of the State Tax Service (STS) and the State Customs Committee (SCC) as well as senior law-enforcement officials.
“Robert Kocharian expressed concern about the existing unsatisfactory tax administration, lack of a proper oversight, flawed legal framework and instances of favoritism on the part of officials,” the presidential press service said in a statement.
The statement said Kocharian cited concrete cases of unspecified entrepreneurs operating in “privileged conditions” and instructed law-enforcement bodies to “identify and strictly punish tax and customs officials engaged in favoritism.” It gave no details of those cases, though. Kocharian was only cited as telling the STS and the CSS to pay particular attention to the payment of taxes by “companies providing goods and services at the expense of the state budget.”
The criticism came despite a continuing increase in the amount of the Armenian government’s tax and customs revenues. In particular, the STS collected over 201 billion drams ($600 million) in various taxes during the first half of this year, up by 27 percent year on year.
The government’s methods of tax collection, including legally questionable advance payments demanded for corporate taxpayers, have long caused controversy, with many local firms continuing to allege harassment by the STS and the Armenian customs. By contrast, other, wealthier businessmen with government connections are believed to get away with evading taxes.
Bribery and other corrupt practices within the STS and the SCC also remains a serious problem. Kocharian, himself accused by his opponents of sponsoring some government-connected tycoons, has regularly faulted the two agencies for failing to address it in earnest. His latest verbal attack came just two months after he appointed the chief of his oversight service, Vahram Barseghian, as the new head of the STS.
According to the presidential statement, Barseghian presented a report on his two-month activities during the meeting. Kocharian was apparently dissatisfied with its content, ordering Barseghian and other participants to submit within the next two days proposals on how to tackle the problems mentioned by him.