The National Assembly debated on Thursday a government proposal to classify information about personal and travel expenses of Armenia’s president, prime minister and parliament speaker covered from the state budget.
Under Armenian law, such data is accessible to the mass media along with many other facts relating to the work of various state institutions. A bill drafted by the National Security Service (NSS) would declare it state secrets not subject to publication.
Presenting the bill to the Armenian parliament, the deputy head of the NSS, Arzuman Harutiunian, said that the existing transparency undermines the personal security of the country’s three most senior officials. He did not elaborate on the security risks involved.
Deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), including parliament speaker Galust Sahakian, voiced support for the bill. But their colleagues representing the four main opposition parties denounced it as an attempt to eliminate a safeguard against government corruption.
“I’ve looked up international legislation on such issues and even checked the Stalin-era practices,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). “Even there I didn’t see any cases where expenditures of high-ranking state officials were carried out secretly.”
“This means you want to officially maintain corruption under the guise of secrecy,” Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress told the NSS official representing the government.
“If, for example, I know what our prime minister ate and how much was spent on it, how is that going to harm his security?” argued Heghine Bisharian, the parliamentary leader of the Orinats Yerkir party that was part of the government until this month.
Some opposition lawmakers suggested that the bill is a government response to a scandal that was triggered last year by the disclosure of then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s travel expenses. It emerged that private jets hired for some of Sarkisian’s 2013 trips abroad cost the government over $200,000. The premier was accused by the opposition and media of profligacy.