By Astghik Bedevian
The National Assembly unanimously approved on Friday the Armenian government’s budget for next year which is supposed to ensure a 22 percent increase in public spending as a result of continued economic growth and improved tax collection.
The 2006 budget calls for 482.2 billion drams ($1.1 billion) in expenditures and 412.4 billion drams in revenues. It will pass the $1 billion mark for the first time in Armenia’s post-Soviet history, something which was presented as a major achievement by the government and its loyal parliament majority.
All 86 deputies who took part in the parliament vote endorsed the bill. Only two opposition deputies were present at the parliament session but boycotted the vote.
“The government is putting forward a program jointly developed by our three parties,” deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said, referring to members of the governing coalition.
“I want to congratulate and thank you,” Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said as he, speaker Artur Baghdasarian and other pro-government lawmakers clinked champagne glassed after the vote.
The volume of the adopted bill represents an almost 7 percent increase from that of the original version of the bill approved by Markarian’s cabinet on September 28. The bill has since been debated by the parliament committees and the full National Assembly. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said the government received 552 proposals from deputies and accepted 90 of them.
The planned spending increase concerns virtually all areas of government responsibility, including defense. The Armenian military’s budget is to grow by 21 percent to 74.3 billion drams ($163 million) in 2006. The government also plans sizable rises in the modest salaries of public sector employees such as schoolteachers and doctors. Also, the official minimum wage in Armenia will rise from 10,000 drams to 15,000 drams.
Nonetheless, the parliament’s two opposition factions rejected the budget. “Have you tried to live on 15,000 drams?” Tatul Manaserian of the Artarutyun bloc asked government officials. “Why are you so delighted with the minimum wage of 15,000 drams?”
“My advice is: get back [to parliament] and resume your work in full,” retorted Torosian. “This is your house and you have obligations here. Not to us, but the society.”