By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government approved on Thursday a draft law that seeks to regulate activities of organizations and private individuals lobbying various state institutions.
The bill, which is to be debated by parliament later this year, would introduce mandatory registration of legal and physical entities seeking appropriate decisions by the executive and legislative branches of government. The lobbyists would also have to obtain accreditation with the National Assembly, the government or other agencies and even specify the names of clients they represent.
According to Deputy Justice Minister Ashot Abovian, the purpose of the proposed legislation is to increase “participation of broad popular masses and groups representing them in state governance.” He said it is also aimed at legalizing a practice that has long existed in Armenia.
“That there is unregulated and unofficial lobbying [of government bodies] in Armenia is beyond doubt,” Abovian told reporters, singling out the parliament where he said
“the right to unregulated lobbying has for years been abused.”
The official clearly referred to dozens of government-connected businessmen who hold parliament seats and use them to further their personal interests. They are particularly attentive to laws regulating taxation. The wealthy lawmakers, for example, were responsible for the government’s failure earlier this year to toughen punishment for taxation evasion.
Armenian business groups, often referred to as “clans,” further their economic interests by exploiting extensive government connections. They usually prefer to act behind the scenes.
Under the government bill in question, any non-governmental organization can apply for and receive the status of a lobbying structure. Armenian NGOs have not been particularly active in lobbying the government for legislative and policy changes, but have sometimes protested against government conduct unacceptable to them. Their lobbying efforts have rarely been successful.