By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s newly formed government approved on Monday a five-year policy program that commits it to strengthening the rule of law, improving the business environment and implementing other “second-generation” reforms promised by President Serzh Sarkisian.
The National Assembly, dominated by government supporters, will discuss and almost certainly endorse the document in what will amount to a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet.
“We have discussed the government’s program with all [four] parties making up the [governing] coalition,” Sarkisian said at an extraordinary cabinet session. “We have received their comments and proposals and incorporated them into the program.” He said the government also took into account unspecified proposals made by Zharangutyun, the only opposition party represented in the parliament.
Outlining the program, Economy Minister Nerses Yeritsian said it is based on the action plan of the previous government formed by Serzh Sarkisian following his Republican Party’s victory in the May 2007 parliamentary elections. He said President Sarkisian and his current cabinet will strive to build “civil society anchored in democratic values,” create an “atmosphere of trust between the public and the authority” and ensure an “unconditional rule of law.”
In Yeritsian’s words, the government will seek to sustain Armenia’s strong economic growth by guaranteeing fair business competition and taking other measures to improve the overall investment climate. It will also launch a “meaningful and consistent fight against corruption,” he said.
Previous Armenian governments, including the one headed by Sarkisian, likewise promised to launch crackdowns on corruption. However, there have been no visible signs of a decrease in bribery and other widespread corrupt practices. In particular, local businessmen continue to complain about what they see as an arbitrary nature of tax collection in the country. The new Armenian president admitted the seriousness of the problem in separate meetings with the leaderships of the State Tax Service and the State Customs Committee (SCC) earlier this month.
Tigran Sarkisian, for his part, reiterated on Monday that improved tax and customs administration will be key to the realization of his cabinet’s “ambitious” socioeconomic agenda. “God help us, if we have a slight failing, omission or shortcoming in this sphere,” the Armenian premier said as he introduced a newly appointed deputy head of the STS to top tax officials. “Given the great expectations [from the government,] that could lead to the failure of the entire government program.”