After two days of heated debates, the Armenian parliament tentatively approved on Friday a government proposal to raise taxes collected from alcohol, tobacco and fuel.
A relevant government bill passed by the National Assembly in the first reading envisages roughly 10 percent increases in the rates of excise tax on sales of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, gasoline and diesel fuel. It also introduces the same duty for liquefied natural gas used by at least half of the vehicles in Armenia.
Presenting the bill, Deputy Finance Minister Vakhtang Mirumian said it will earn the Armenian government 9 billion drams ($19 million) in extra tax revenue. The figure is equivalent to less than 1 percent of the government’s entire budgetary revenue projected for this year.
The bill met on Thursday with strong resistance from not only opposition deputies but also some of their colleagues affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). They claimed that it would push up the prices of not only alcohol, tobacco and fuel but also other goods and services.
Hakob Hakobian, a senior HHK lawmaker, said the government risks thereby increasing poverty in the country. He pointed in that context to a 16 percent increase in electricity prices that will take effect on August 1.
Mirumian dismissed these concerns. “This is not the kind of increase that could have a major impact on consumer prices,” he told the parliament. “It will most likely have no impact at all.”
The HHK deputies stopped criticizing the proposed tax rises on the second day of the debates, overwhelmingly voting for them afterwards. Galust Sahakian, the parliament speaker and a senior HHK figure, said the government has agreed to come up with more detailed justifications for the controversial measure. This is why, he said, the parliament will not debate it in the second and final reading before this fall.