Armenia’s leading opposition parties on Monday pledged to work together in trying to prevent a more than 35 percent surge in electricity prices sought by the Russian-owned national power distribution network.
The Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) utility formally requested the price hike last week in a letter sent to the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC). The company cited continuing financial losses incurred by it and the need to repay its outstanding massive debts.
The Armenian government, which purportedly does not control the PSRC, backs the highly unpopular measure, with Energy and Natural Resources Minister Yervand Zakharian calling it “totally justified” last week. Zakharian insisted that the existing energy tariffs are too low to allow the ENA to sort out its financial troubles.
Opposition forces and other government critics dismiss these explanations. They say the electricity network’s losses primarily result from the ENA’s mismanagement by its Russian parent company, the RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES). They also point to what they see as extravagant expense of the ENA management.
“The distribution network managers believe that consumers must also pay for their luxury cars worth astronomical sums and properties leased at illogical prices,” Nikol Pashinian, an opposition lawmaker, said during a parliament session in Yerevan.
Another deputy, Ruben Hakobian, alleged widespread “theft” among ENA executives.
Leaders of the parliament’s four main opposition factions met later in the day to discuss ways of jointly countering the price hike. “We have agreed to work together on this issue of electricity price increase,” Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) said afterwards. “We will try to form a united front.”
Zurabian stressed that the HAK is ready to go as far as to organize street protests. “If thousands of people take to the streets the authorities will back away,” he said.
The opposition meeting took place after the HAK failed to muster enough support for an emergency session that would discuss the opposition party’s proposal to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the ENA’s operations. The largest of the opposition factions, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), said the National Assembly should hold instead hearings on energy tariffs.
Parliament speaker Galust Sahakian said he is ready to organize such hearings “in the coming days.” He said he will invite officials from the government and the PSRC to them.
The daytime electricity price for Armenian households already went up by 27 percent in July 2013 because of the increased cost of Russian natural gas, which generates more than one-third of Armenia’s electricity. The PSRC raised it by another 10 percent in July 2014, citing the need to end the ENA’s mounting losses.