The Armenian government has laid off three deputy ministers of agriculture as part of a major cost-cutting drive that was announced by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian last month.
Abrahamian’s office announced the dismissals of Grisha Baghiyan, Samvel Galstian and Garnik Petrosian on Thursday evening. The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that nobody will be appointed in their place.
Agriculture Minister Sergo has had five deputies until now, more than most other cabinet members.
The layoffs came one month after Abrahamian said the government should streamline its expenditures, downsize many of its agencies, step up its declared fight against corruption and improve the domestic business environment. Armenia, he said, must become a “more efficient state” in order to successfully cope with “new challenges” emanating from the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The premier referred to the April 2-5 hostilities in Karabakh which heightened the risk of a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
Later in May, the government decided to decommission almost 800 cars used by its senior officials and other public sector employees. But it has yet to determine the scale of the planned staff cuts. Nor is it clear how much money the government will save as a result of these measures.
Deputy Finance Minister Pavel Safarian admitted that the anticipated cost-saving will not be massive. “This is more of a moral issue,” Safarian said. He also insisted that the government, whose budget for this year is equivalent to roughly $3 billion, has not wasted public funds.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), an opposition party led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, claimed the opposite on Friday as it demanded urgent changes in the 2016 state budget. The HAK’s parliamentary leader, Levon Zurabian, said the budget must be revised so that more money is set aside for defense and programs that would spur economic growth in the country.
“Let’s hold an emergency session,” Zurabian told the Armenian parliament. “It would be a great opportunity for a healthy debate on this issue which would allow us to reconsider our priorities.”
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, backed the initiative. One of its senior lawmakers, Mikael Melkumian, called for a “substantial increase” in 2016 defense spending projected at around $500 million.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) spoke out against a budgetary revision, saying that the Armenian defense budget is sufficient for the time being. “We will thoroughly look into the matter,” Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, told reporters. “If there is a need for [a spending increase,] we will address it.”
Armenia is due to purchase soon more Russian-made weapons for its armed forces with a $200 million loan disbursed by Russia last year.