A leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) insisted on Thursday that the government is not serious about its latest pledge to combat corruption and create a level playing field for all businesses.
“If that were to happen, it would be a war against his team or even himself. Are they ready for that? I don’t think so,” Aram Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to a major reform drive announced by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian last week.
The HAK’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, dismissed that pledge during the government’s question-and-answer session in the National Assembly on Wednesday. Zurabian rejected Abrahamian’s calls for the Armenian opposition to submit concrete proposals to improve competition and the broader investment climate in the country.
Manukian argued that Abrahamian gave similar promises shortly after being appointed as prime minister two years ago. He said government-linked businesspeople have since continued to enjoy privileged treatment by tax authorities. He also stood by opposition allegations that many senior government officials personally benefit from those “oligopolies.”
Manukian pointed to the Armenian customs service’s refusal on May 1 to allow a little-known company to import 46 metric tons of diesel fuel from Russia on the grounds that it does not meet Armenian quality standards. The company, Rusarmoil, rejected that claim, alleging foul play. Its trucks carrying the fuel were finally allowed to cross into Armenia on Wednesday.
Manukian claimed that the authorities gave the green light to the fuel import only because of a media outcry.
Later on Wednesday, Abrahamian met with several senior government officials to discuss the domestic fuel market that has long been effectively monopolized by a handful of influential tycoons. A government statement said they explored “possibilities of simplifying procedures” for fuel imports.
The Armenian premier reiterated his pledge to liberalize the lucrative imports of fuel and basic foodstuffs as he chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday. “Hovik Abrahamian instructed the State Revenue Committee to create equal tax and customs conditions for all importers and emphasized that the process will be monitored by the prime minister’s Oversight Service,” reported his press office.
Abrahamian also told Economy Minister Artsvik Minasian to publicize a “clear” list of safety, licensing and tax requirements to importers set by Armenia’s laws and government regulations.