Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Thursday that he will press ahead with a significant reduction of the number of government ministries in Armenia despite strong criticism from affected civil servants and opposition politicians.
A government bill circulated last month 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 be 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 total number of ministries would be reduced from 17 to 12. It is not yet clear how many government employees would be laid off as a result.
The bill sparked street protests in December by hundreds of Diaspora and culture ministry employees fearing a loss of their jobs. They denounced it as hasty and ill-thought-out.
Pashinian countered that the bill is in tune with his repeated pledges to downsize the government made during campaigning for the December 9 parliamentary elections won by his M Step alliance.
“We promised during the election campaign that the composition and structure of the government would be changed and the number of ministries would be cut,” the prime minister told a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “We must follow that path without any deviation.”
“I want to stress that the aim of this is not to save money, so to speak,” he said. “The aim here is much more important: to enhance the efficiency of the government and its bodies.”
Pashinian indicated at the same time that he has not made a final decision on the government’s structure and is still open to other proposals. “We will listen to all views regarding all possible configurations and make a maximally balanced decision,” he said.
Some public administration experts question the wisdom of having fewer government ministries. They say that the new “super-ministries” would only slow down the work of the state apparatus.
Pashinian’s intention to close the Ministry of Diaspora has proved particularly controversial. It is opposed by not only the 90 or so ministry employees but also some prominent members of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora.
Pashinian insisted that the ministry’s closure would not reflect negatively on Armenia’s ties with the Diaspora. He pledged to come up with an alternative solution that would actually deepen those ties.
“We are going to discuss that model with our Diaspora compatriots as well,” he said. “I hope that we will reach agreement and consensus on this issue.”