Opposition leaders denounced Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Tuesday for what appears to be a confidential decision to effectively double the salaries of Armenian government ministers and their deputies.
Citing information provided by various ministries, the Hetq.am investigative publication reported on Monday since June the ministers have been paid 1.5 million drams ($3,200) each per month, which is twice the amount of their salaries set by an Armenian law. It said that deputy ministers have likewise seen their monthly wages double to just over 1 million drams.
The online publication quoted an Armenian government spokesman as saying that the sharp pay rises were “carried out under a secret procedure.” It said that Pashinian issued the “secret directive” in July.
Pashinian’s press secretary, Vladimir Karapetian, did not deny the veracity of the report when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. But he declined to comment further.
The salaries of Armenia’s high-ranking state officials were most recently officially raised in 2013 through amendments to the law in question. Pashinian, then an opposition parliamentarian, strongly opposed the measure. “The ruling elite has decided to raise its wages … against the background of poverty, emigration and hopelessness,” he complained at the time.
The leaders of the two opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament seized upon the Hetq.am revelation to accuse Pashinian’s government of lack of transparency. They also questioned the legality of the lavish pay rise.
“I condemn it for the fact that it was done secretly,” said Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian. “What did the people do the  revolution for? The people are ready for everything but they want to be informed.”
“Public funds belonging to the people cannot be spent through secret procedures unless we are talking about spending on defense and national security,” agreed Edmon Marukian of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK).
Artur Sakunts, a prominent civic activist, also voiced concern at the revelation. “This is incompatible with democratic and accountable governance,” he said, adding that the government should apologize to the public and explain the salary hike.
Meanwhile, parliamentary leaders of the ruling My Step bloc sought to deflect questions about Pashinian’s controversial decision, saying that it is up to the government to explain it. But they also stressed that paying the ministers and other senior officials decent salaries will contribute to good governance in Armenia.
“The wages of employees of state bodies must be raised because often times the private sector offers better [financial] conditions to specialists needed by the state … and the state loses in this competition,” said My Step’s Alen Simonian.
Marukian acknowledged that higher salaries lower “corruption risks” in the public sector. The opposition leader added, however, that the government should either increase them by amending the law on high-ranking officials’ wages or pay those officials bonuses in a transparent manner.
Pashinian’s government has paid hefty bonuses to tax officials as well as the employees of other government agencies. Their disclosure by Armenian media caused opposition uproar late last year. The head of the State Revenue Committee, Davit Ananian, admitted in January that he alone received 14 million drams ($29,000) in bonuses during his eight-month tenure.
Pashinian essentially defended those payments, arguing that they also benefited ordinary public sector employees. He also complained that the government has trouble attracting skilled professionals working for private firms and earning higher wages.