Most taxpayers in Armenia do not trust the president of the republic and key state institutions, according to a U.S.-funded survey made public this week.
The non-governmental Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) interviewed 1,600 households across the country late last year as part of a tax reform project implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It asked them a wide range of questions relating to tax collection.
The findings of the opinion poll were publicized during a conference in Yerevan organized by the USAID. They show that 58 percent of the respondents “fully” or “somewhat” distrust President Serzh Sarkisian. Only 26 percent of them trust him to varying degrees.
Public trust in Armenia’s government and parliament was even lower: at 21 percent and 18 percent respectively. The Armenian courts are also widely distrusted by citizens paying taxes, according to the survey.
Accordingly, the CRRC researchers said, the respondents believe that a large part of taxes collected from them is misused by the authorities. “Regarding the question on how the government uses generated tax money, ‘personal purposes’ (20.9 percent), ‘the army’ (18.9 percent), and ‘pensions’ (15.6 percent) were among the most popular answers,” they said.
Two-thirds of the respondents, added the CRRC, believe that only up to one-fifth of paid taxes
are “returned to society through public services.” Only 3.2 percent of the respondents think that the public receives back over half of the paid taxes, it said.
At the same time, the survey suggests that the overwhelming majority of Armenians recognize the importance of tax collection and support tougher penalties against tax evasion. “Seventy-seven percent of the respondents expressed a willingness to cooperate with the government and pay taxes, a number that is four times higher than those who are not willing to cooperate,” it said.
The CRRC pollsters found similar mood among 400 randomly chosen entrepreneurs interviewed by them separately. “Around 70 percent of the business taxpayers think that avoiding taxes is not justifiable,” they said.
The survey also shows that nearly 80 percent of these taxpayers feel that the tax laws are not
equally enforced for all the business taxpayers.
Vahagn Khachatrian, a well-known economist and opposition politician, said this sentiment only proves that the Armenian authorities have not been serious about their repeated pledges to create a level playing field for all businesses. “The problem is on the political, rather than economic, plane,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He claimed that the authorities lack the political will to improve the country’s flawed business environment.
The State Revenue Committee, the national tax collection body that was merged with the Armenian Finance Ministry last week, declined to comment on the survey on Thursday.