A controversial new tax sought by the Armenian government for raising compensations paid to the families of soldiers killed or seriously wounded in action might become optional, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
A government bill passed by the Armenian parliament in the first reading last week allows the closest relatives of soldiers who die or become gravely disabled while on combat duty to receive 10 million drams ($21,000). Wounded soldiers suffering from less serious disabilities will be paid 5 million drams.
In addition to these one-off payouts, the families of killed or maimed army officers, contract soldiers and conscripts would receive monthly pensions ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 drams for 20 years.
The compensation scheme would be financed from a special fund to which every working Armenian would contribute 1,000 drams (just over $2) per month.
The government initiative has prompted criticism from opposition politicians, civil society activists and other critics of the government. Opposition lawmakers described it as unfair during last week’s heated parliament debates
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the authorities are now considering amending the bill in response to the criticism.
“Citizens might be able to lodge formal requests and refuse [1,000-dram] payments,” he said. “As for just how that would be done, let us not speculate for now. There could be many variants.”
“There is still some time before [parliament debates in] the second and third readings,” said Hovannisian.
The official added that the idea of making the fixed rate tax non-compulsory has been suggested by Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Experts from the Defense Ministry and other government agencies are now examining it, he said.
Opposition lawmakers that voted against the new tax have already rejected the proposed amendment.
“We consider that unacceptable,” said Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress. He accused the authorities of taking a “very immoral approach” by creating an ethical dilemma for low-income Armenians.
Another opposition parliamentarian, Zaruhi Postanjian, said that many public and private employers would force their works not to opt out of the payments.
The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), whose parliamentary faction voted for the controversial bill last week, also objected to the idea. One of its leaders, Mikael Melkumian said that the new tax should be optional only for some socially vulnerable categories of the population.