By Anna Saghabalian and Hovannes ShoghikianArmenia’s recently reshuffled government pledged on Thursday to embark on “second-generation reforms” which it said will strengthen democracy and rule of law, ensure continued economic growth, and further reduce poverty.
The promised reforms are at part of a five-year plan of action approved by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s new coalition cabinet. The program is certain to be endorsed by the National Assembly later this month, in what will amount to a vote of confidence in the governing coalition formed as a result of the May 12 parliamentary elections.
Sarkisian told RFE/RL that the government intends to build on economic, legal and other reforms implemented by the administration of President Robert Kocharian over the past seven years. In particular, he cited a long list of laws enacted by the Armenian authorities with the blessing of Western donors.
“When those laws start to work in full, the people will really feel their effects,” Sarkisian said. “This is what second-generation reforms are all about.”
A separate statement by the government said its program is based on the election platforms of Kocharian, Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), and its junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. It envisages the creation of a “civil society anchored in democratic values” and “unconditional rule of law.”
The government also committed itself to combating widespread corruption and establishing “social justice.” The latter is supposed to be achieved through improved tax collection and higher public spending, which should in turn result from continued economic growth.
The government expects the Armenian economy to grow at an annual rate at least 8 percent in the next five years. Official statistics show the economy expanding by 11 percent during the first five months of this year, putting it on course to register a double-digit growth rate for a sixth consecutive year.
According to Minister for Trade and Economic Development Nerses Yeritsian, the robust growth is translating into higher-than-projected tax revenues. Yeritsian said the government will ask the HHK-controlled parliament to allow it to increase its 2007 budgetary expenditures, projected at 558.7 billion drams ($1.6 billion), by 9 billion drams.
In his words, the government program calls for an annual increase by at least 0.3 percentage points in tax revenues’ ratio to Gross Domestic Product, product which is one of the lowest in the former Soviet Union. He said this will further reduce the proportion of Armenians living below the official poverty line. Extreme poverty in Armenia will be all but eliminated by 2012, added Yeritsian.
(Photolur photo: Leaders of the HHK, Prosperous Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation sign a power-sharing agreement on June 6.)