An expensive facility being built in Armenia’s resort town of Dilijan as a training center for tax and customs officials is facing an uncertain future after last month’s resignation of the government and, in particular, Finance Minister Gagik Khachatrian who is believed to have personally lobbied its construction still when combining his post with that of chief of the State Revenue Committee (SRC).
Still last year the multimillion-dollar project became a target of criticism in the media considering that only a small part of the facility touted as a study environment is actually designated for lecture rooms.
Instead, the sprawling complex tucked into a picturesque forest in Armenia’s northeastern Tavush province will have much larger leisure facilities, including swimming pools with mosaic tiles, whirlpool bathtubs, gyms, saunas, bars, restaurants, tennis courts and a cinema hall equipped with expensive projection and sound systems.
Officials in charge of the project dismissed claims that the government project was a luxury for a cash-strapped country like Armenia and that the public money could be spent for better purposes.
Media attention to the fate of the center renewed after the September government reshuffle as a result of which Khachatrian and other officials of the economic unit, including the SRC head, left their positions.
Soon allegations were made that the construction of the center that, according to the SRC, has already cost the taxpayers over $33.5 million and requires an estimated $800,000 to finish has become a burden for the government that reportedly saw a more than $110 million budget revenue shortfall in January-September.
Still, conflicting statements are coming from within the government regarding the future of the project.
The SCR told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday that there is no decision on the sale of the facility. Earlier this week, however, talking to reporters in parliament, new Finance Minister Vardan Aramian said that a change of plans for the training center was being considered at the government. Later, however, the Finance Ministry’s press department said that the minister’s comments concerned a different training center, which is located in Yerevan rather than Dilijan.
It is remarkable, however, that Aramian made that statement in response to a question about Khachatrian’s “extravagant budget spending”. To the question of one of the reporters whether the expenses were unwise, the current minister answered that it was against his principles to discuss his predecessors. Still he added: “I think one could be wiser in dealing with taxpayer money.”
Hayk Gevorkian, a senior economic reporter for the pro-opposition Haykakan Zhamanak daily, believes the Dilijan center has become a headache for the government. “It was clear from the beginning that there was no rationale for constructing such a facility,” he said. “It was simply the fulfillment of someone’s fantasies… at a time when Armenia simply had no spare money.”