The National Assembly overwhelmingly approved on Thursday a controversial government proposal to introduce a new tax for sharply increasing compensations paid to the families of Armenian soldiers killed or seriously wounded in action.
A government bill unveiled last week will allow the closest relatives of soldiers who die or become gravely disabled while on combat duty to receive 10 million drams ($21,000). Wounded soldiers suffering from less serious disabilities will be paid 5 million drams.
In addition to these one-off payouts, the families of killed or maimed army officers, contract soldiers and conscripts would receive monthly pensions ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 drams for 20 years.
The compensation scheme would apply to combat incidents happening after January 2017. It would be financed from a special fund to which every working Armenian would contribute 1,000 drams (just over $2) per month.
The government initiative has prompted criticism from opposition politicians, civil society activists and other critics of the government.
Opposition lawmakers described it as unfair during parliament debates that drew to a close late on Wednesday. They said that instead of placing an additional financial burden on the population the government should tackle tax evasion and collect “stolen” public funds from corrupt state officials.
Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian defended the measure and urged multi-partisan support for it. “I wouldn’t like to see anyone vote against this bill, even if their views do not allow them to vote for it,” he told the parliament. “That would send a very important message to those who are following this debate, and not only in Armenia.”
In the event, the bill was backed by 102 members of the 131-seat legislature. Only three opposition deputies voted against it.
“We remain categorically against the new tax on the people,” one of them, Aram Manukian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after the vote:
“I don’t think that 1,000 drams is a lot of money,” countered Grigori Markarian, a pro-government businessman and deputy. “I think the people will be paying those 1,000 drams with great pleasure because they will be paying for their soldiers, their defenders.”