The Armenian government has been instructed to develop legal mechanisms to place all financial flows generated by paid parking services and traffic cameras in the form of fees and penalties under state control.
The instruction follows relevant consultations hosted on Wednesday by President Serzh Sarkisian.
In what was touted as a major anti-corruption measure the Armenian police started operating speed radars and surveillance cameras in Yerevan and other locations of Armenia a few years ago in order to detect and punish traffic violations. Paid parking enforced by cameras was also introduced in the Armenian capital later. In both cases the equipment and maintenance of the operations were provided by private companies that, under agreements with the Armenian state bodies, received most profits from fees and penalties levied from drivers.
Traffic cameras have been a major source of discontent of thousands of Armenian drivers who complain both about the size of penalties and the method of their application. Activists have also complained about the fact that most of the fees go to private companies rather than the state budget from where the money could be used for improving road infrastructure and refurbishing streets with new traffic signs as well as for social advertisement to reduce traffic violations.
During the past year the government has tried to alleviate the situation of drivers by easing the controversial enforcement of penalties and applying non-pecuniary forms of punishment for minor violations.
Drivers, however, continued to complain about the burden, accusing the police of trying to get as much money as they can instead of preventing traffic accidents.
“A great amount of work undoubtedly has been carried out even though the number of complaints has not dropped,” President Sarkisian admitted during consultations attended by senior government officials. “I would like to repeat once again that… the purpose is not to squeeze money from the drivers, but to create comfortable conditions for our citizens.”
Sarkisian gave the officials 10 days to work out legal solutions for the functions and administration conditioned by the type of private property, including financial flows, to be transferred to the state and community structures.
“Thus, the Government is tasked to solve this issue, naturally taking into consideration the inviolability of private property, as well as the interests of the state and communities. I believe that solutions do exist and they should also result in the improved quality of services,” the president stressed.
Finance Minister Vartan Aramian explained that the government will take on the functions of the companies and will manage the money. “We, as a state, will try to carry out all functions that are possible for us to carry out. Of course, part of the money will still go to the private sector for maintenance of the system,” he said.
The move that comes five months before parliamentary elections has already been dismissed by critics as a publicity stunt.
Arman Suleymanian, a journalist and activist of a pressure group that has campaigned against the controversial use of traffic cameras for years, called into question the prospect of better conditions for drivers. Talking to Azatutyun TV, he argued that the police simply cannot refuse to avail from the system that benefits it.
“While the police know that part of their salary is formed from these penalties, they won’t change their approach,” he said.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which also actively pushed for reforms in the sector as an opposition party before forming a political coalition with President Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia last February, hailed the initiative that it believes will turn the levied fees and penalties into a public good.
Armen Rustamian, the leader of Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary faction, insisted that the private companies now engaged in providing the services have already recovered their investments and made profits. “The matter concerns huge sums of money and the moment has come when a stop will be put to it, while the money will go to government control. We should understand that these penalties will at last serve the citizens,” he said.
Owners and top managers of Security Dream, Parking City Service and Locator Consortium, the companies engaged in rendering video policing and paid parking services, have not reacted to the move yet. Media in Armenia have repeatedly alleged that people standing behind these companies have close connections with the authorities.