The Armenian government on Thursday decided to lavishly reward state antitrust regulators for slapping a hefty fine on the country’s leading fuel-importing company accused of violating competition rules.
The State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) fined the City Petrol Group company 100 million drams ($258,000) on Wednesday for allegedly squeezing small gasoline retailers out of business with arbitrary pricing policies.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, the SCPEC chairman, Artak Shaboyan, requested that almost one-quarter of the sum be paid to himself and the six other members of the regulatory body as a bonus. The government approved the request.
“Mr. Shaboyan, you are going to carry on with the same tempo, aren’t you?” said Sarkisian.
The unprecedented decision means that the SCPEC members will received 3.5 million drams ($9,000) each. The bonuses will be paid in monthly installments in the course of this year.
Shaboyan’s current monthly salary is 290,000 drams ($750), while other commission members earn 227,000 drams a month.
“Naturally, rewards encourage the commission to slap heavier fines and work better,” Shaboyan told journalists after the cabinet meeting.
The SCPEC denied a direct connection between the bonuses and the antitrust sanction taken against the fuel importer. “This is not our fist fine,” he said. “We have imposed such sanctions before.”
Anahik Bakhshian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, criticized the government decision, saying that the commission members should not have received additional compensation for performing their duties. “That is definitely not honest with respect to our society and people,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Bakhshian also protested against the fact that the government did not reward the SCPEC staff numbering several dozen civil servants.
“Staffers will be rewarded next time,” said Shaboyan. “When will that happen? I don’t know.”
Prime Minister Sarkisian has repeatedly called for tougher antitrust measures, saying that a lack of competition in key sectors of the Armenian economy is a serious obstacle to faster GDP growth. Last year, his government pushed through parliament legal amendments that gave more powers to the SCPEC.