Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian again pledged to create a level playing for all businesses and tackle tax evasion on Tuesday as he presented his government’s three-year plan of actions to the Armenian parliament.
“The shadow [economy] is our common enemy,” Abrahamian told lawmakers. “The fight against it will be relentless, impartial and consistent. I will be especially strict towards people close to me and I will demand the same from all government members.”
“Everyone must realize that in our country nobody can misappropriate other people’s businesses or other assets with the help of government levers,” he declared.
Abrahamian made similar pledges when he met with leading Armenian businesspeople last week. He said they must stop evading taxes and abusing their market positions by July 1 or face a tougher crackdown by tax authorities.
The premier’s statements have been met with skepticism by opposition politicians and other critics of the Armenian authorities. They argue that Abrahamian and some members of his cabinet, notably Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian, are known to have made fortunes while holding various government positions.
Levon Zurabian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), cited Khachatrian’s reputedly extensive business interests to question a stronger rule of law promised by Abrahamian. “How can we believe in what you said?” he asked.
Abrahamian replied that Khachatrian is a “very professional man” who understands the importance of having a business-friendly environment in Armenia. “Everybody must understand … that after their appointment they will have no right to make use of any privileges,” he said. “I made that clear even before they were appointed by the president of the republic.”
Zurabian remained unconvinced. “We have for years seen such pieces of paper presented by officials of different caliber,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards, referring to the government program. “I simply consider meaningless any discussion of what is written there, especially given that nothing concrete is written there.”