Senior government and Central Bank officials downplayed the impact of recent increases in the prices of fuel and some foodstuffs in Armenia during parliamentary hearings held on Tuesday.
The leadership of the Armenian parliament organized the hearings at the initiative of President Serzh Sarkisian, who expressed concern over the price hikes earlier this month. Sarkisian discussed their possible causes at an emergency meeting with top state officials.
Some of those officials spoke at the hearings attended by not only lawmakers but also representatives of non-governmental organizations and opposition parties not represented in the National Assembly. Just like Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, they insisted that the increased prices of the essential products have not significantly pushed up the cost of living in Armenia.
Artur Javadian, the governor of the Central Bank of Armenia, said that consumer price inflation in the country stood averaged only 2.6 percent last year. “In terms of fiscal-monetary policy, inflation is under control,” he said, adding that it has been much higher in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Javadian also complained: “Inflationary expectations seem to be intensifying for unfounded reasons, making the ongoing fiscal-monetary policy more costly. And irrational public behavior stemming from that will hurt the public itself.”
Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition leader, questioned the official inflation rate, pointing to recent months’ double-digit rises in the prices of butter, meat and potatoes which the authorities blame on external factors.
“Why did the authorities organize these hearings? To say that there is no inflation in Armenia,” said Pashinian.
Roland Avetisian, who leads an NGO defending pensioners’ rights, also hit out at the government. “Pensioners have a really hard time getting by and meeting their basic needs,” he said.
The prices of petrol, diesel and pressurized natural gas, used by most vehicles in the country, went up by around 10 percent following the entry into force on January 1 of higher excise taxes. Vakhtang Mirumian, a deputy head of the State Revenue Committee, insisted that these price hikes will not have a serious impact on consumers and businesses.
Mirumian argued that gasoline now powers only a small minority of Armenian cars and is practically not used by manufacturing firms. He went on to play down the higher price of pressurized gas, saying that it now equals the gas tariff that existed in 2015. The cost of public transport and other services and goods will not rise as a result, he said.
Diesel fuel is used by tractors and other agricultural machinery. Hence, widespread fears that agricultural products grown in Armenia will become more expensive.
Agriculture Minister Ignati Arakelian told the hearings that the government may well subsidize the diesel price for villagers and wheat farmers in particular. “A plan of subsidizing diesel fuel is already under discussion,” he said.