President Serzh Sarkisian chaired the first meeting of his new but mostly unchanged government on Monday, telling its members to ensure that economic growth in Armenia is well above earlier government projections this year.
Sarkisian finished the cabinet’s formation on Saturday, more than one month after parliamentary elections that were controversially won by his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
As expected, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and 13 of the 18 ministers in the previous cabinet retained their posts. Four of the five new ministers were appointed to positions that were until now occupied by members of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the election runner-up that decided to pull out of the ruling coalition.
Sarkisian and his HHK will now share power only with the Orinats Yerkir Party of Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of the presidential National Security Council. Orinats Yerkir will run the ministries of agriculture, emergency situations and urban development.
“As you can see, we haven’t made revolutionary changes in the government,” President Sarkisian said at the cabinet session. “That is conditioned by our intention not to break up the momentum in programs and reforms that are already in progress. But this doesn’t meet that we will not be expecting revolutionary results from the work of the executive.”
Sarkisian stressed that the government must deliver on sweeping changes in the socioeconomic and political domains that were promised by him during the parliamentary race. “The primary expectation from the government’s work in 2012 is to ensure a 7 percent economic growth,” he added.
The Armenian authorities had forecast a GDP growth rate of only 4.2 percent for this year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have come with slightly more modest growth projections in recent months, repeatedly warning of the fallout from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), the Armenian economy expanded by 4.7 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
Presenting the government’s five-year program, Prime Minister Sarkisian said the growth rate will stand at between 5 and 7 percent in 2012-2017. He said the policy document also commits the government to creating 100,000 jobs and doubling the minimum national wage during that period.
According to Gagik Minasian, a senior HHK lawmaker, the government will also step up its declared fight against “oligopolies” that control key sectors of the domestic economy and are believed to hamper its steady growth. “Internal resources [for economic growth] are still far from being exhausted, and one of them is a higher level of competition and the absence of abuse of dominant positions [in business,]” Minasian told a news conference.
In particular, he said, the State Commission on the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC) will be given new powers to detect and punish such abuses. Minasian insisted that the SCPEC has already taken significant ant-trust over the past year.
Hrant Bagratian, an outspoken deputy from the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), dismissed these assurances. “The share of oligopolies in GDP and tax revenues has increased in the last five years,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Like many other government critics, Bagratian pointed out that the HHK’s parliamentary faction comprises many wealthy businessmen linked to the “oligopolies.” “They will find ways of cheating,” he claimed. “Therefore, I think we should discuss not this kind of statements but a concrete set of measures planned by [the government.]”