The number of government ministries in Armenia is due to be slashed to 12 from 17 in line with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s pledges to downsize the state bureaucracy.
A relevant bill publicized by the Armenian government would also abolish the post of first deputy prime minister introduced shortly before this spring’s “velvet revolution.” Pashinian would have only two deputies after forming a new cabinet next month.
Armenia’s newly elected parliament controlled by Pashinian’s My Step alliance will likely pass the bill. The National Assembly is expected to hold its first session on January 14.
The bill calls for abolishing the Ministry of Diaspora and merging four other ministries with different agencies.
In particular, the ministries of agriculture and economic development would be turned into a single ministry, as would the ministries of education, culture, and sports and youth affairs. A similar merger of the ministries of energy and local government would lead to the creation of a new Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications would be renamed and presumably expanded into a new agency called the Ministry of Technologies and Defense Industry.
The government has not yet specified how many of its employees will be laid off as a result of the planned restructuring. Nor is it clear how much budgetary money it expects to save.
Hundreds of employees of the ministries of culture and Diaspora demonstrated in Yerevan on Friday in protest against the impending closure of their agencies. They denounced the government plans as hasty and ill-thought-out. They also faulted Pashinian and his young political team for not consulting with civil servants.
Pashinian defended the plans on Saturday. He argued that he has repeatedly said since coming to power in May that the state bureaucracy is bloated and inefficient. He said My Step’s landslide victory in the December 9 general elections means that he has a mandate to shrink it.
“The common practice around the world is for 9 to 11 employees to have one leader,” Pashinian told reporters. “In our state bureaucracy there is one leader per 3.5 workers.”
Some analysts question the wisdom of reducing the number of government ministries. Serob Antinian, a public administration expert, said on Monday that the new “super-ministries” would actually slow down the work of the state apparatus.
“If we unite ministries it will mean that while a minister has until now taken one or two days to sign a state document because of busyness they would take ten days after that [restructuring,]” Antinian told a news conference.
The planned downsizing was also criticized as “arbitrary” by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which had two ministerial posts in Pashinian’s government until recently. In a statement, the opposition party warned of “very serious consequences” of the measure.
Artur Khachatrian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader who served as agriculture minister from May through October this year, was especially critical of the proposed merger of the ministries of agriculture and economy.
“I think that the Ministry of Agriculture should have on the contrary been strengthened,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “After all, agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Another 10 percent of GDP comes from food processing.”