Hundreds of self-employed Armenians continued to demonstrate in Yerevan on Thursday against new taxation rules which they believe would ruin their small businesses.
The protesters, most of them owners of market stalls and small shops, marched from Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s office to the presidential administration building in the capital where they scuffled with riot police. The latter used force to unblock a major Yerevan briefly closed by the angry crowd.
The protesters tried in vain to get Abrahamian and senior officials from President Serzh Sarkisian’s staff to meet them and listen to their demands. A senior aide to Abrahamian, Aleksandr Ghazarian, told them that the premier is too busy to talk to them. He also made clear that the Armenian government has no intention to repeal controversial legal amendments enacted last fall.
The changes effective from October 1 were made to an Armenian law on turnover tax, which is levied from businesses with annual sales of up to 58 million drams ($125,000). The latter pay no other taxes.
While lowering from 3.5 percent to 1 percent the turnover tax rate, the amended law obligates the small business owners to provide tax authorities with documentary evidence of their wholesale purchases made from larger firms or face heavy fines. The government says that this will make it much harder for big business to evade taxes.
The traders argue, however, that they cannot comply with this requirement their suppliers usually refuse to issue them with receipts and invoices. “One of those wealthy businessmen is the finance minister [Gagik Khachatrian,]” said one of the speakers at their rally on Thursday. “They want to bring him into the taxation field at our expense.”
“Instead, we will make him appear before the people. We won’t allow them to use us as instruments,” he told the crowd outside Abrahamian’s office.
A series of demonstrations held by the traders them in September and October forced Abrahamian’s cabinet to effectively postpone the enforcement of the new rules until February 1. The traders have warned that they will go on strike if the government refuses to again freeze the law.