The Armenia government pledged on Thursday to verify the quality of natural gas supplied to households, responding to growing suspicions about the amount of energy produced by its combustion.
Ordinary Armenians backed by consumer rights groups have increasingly complained in recent years that they need to burn larger volumes of gas to cook food and heat their homes. Many of them feel that the ARG national gas distribution company reduces its calorific value to make additional profits. ARG, which is a subsidiary of Russia’s Gazprom monopoly, Armenia’s principal gas supplier, has always denied that.
The issue again came to the fore after last summer’s sharp rise in the price of Russian gas for Armenia. A colder-than-usual winter placed additional financial burdens on Armenian family budgets. Top ARG held a news conference last week to again try to disprove allegations that it mixes gas with other substances.
Robert Nazarian, the chairman of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), brought up the issue at a weekly session of Armenia’s government. He said that the regulatory body is receiving numerous complaints from individual consumers and unnamed “legal entities” about the calorific value of gas. Nazarian suggested that the government dispel these suspicions by setting up an ad hoc commission tasked with looking into the quality of gas.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian accepted the proposal despite saying that experts think it is physically impossible to dilute natural gas. Sarkisian ordered the Armenian Ministry of Economy to form a commission comprising representatives of “all interested parties.”
Armen Poghosian, the chairman of the non-governmental Union of Consumers, welcomed the development, saying that he is ready to join the commission. “The government is finally addressing this issue which has a great public resonance,” Poghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We often receive such complaints and it’s time to either disprove them or punish organizations or people engaged in fraud.”
But Babken Pipoyan, who leads another consumer rights group, was less enthusiastic. He said the make-up of the commission will show just how serious the authorities are about tackling the issue.
Gagik Makarian, the head of the Armenian Union of Employers, was even more skeptical. He suggested that the government is only keen to use the promised inquiry for reassuring the public and clearing ARG of any wrongdoing.