Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday defended his recent decision to effectively double the salaries of ministers and other senior government officials and insisted that it was not made secretly.
The Hetq.am investigative publication revealed on Monday that the ministers, their deputies and top civil servants have been paid twice the amount of their monthly wages for the last four months. It said that this is the result of a “secret directive” issued by Pashinian in July.
Armenian opposition leaders seized upon the report to accuse the government of a lack of transparency. Some of them also suggested that the pay rise ran counter to an Armenian law that sets the salaries of high-ranking state officials.
Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK), demanded explanations from Pashinian during the government’s question-and-answer session in the National Assembly.
Pashinian explained that the monthly remunerations of the officials in question have doubled thanks to hefty bonuses which he added to their salaries. He said the pay rise was financed from “bonus funds” which Armenia’s 2019 state budget set aside for all government agencies.
“You were told about that during the budget discussions [in the parliament] and you voted for it,” he told Marukian.
Those funds are equivalent to 30 percent of the government’s wage bills for this year. “The government is free to use that 30 percent at will,” stressed Pashinian.
The premier also claimed that his controversial decision was marked as classified by his office only due to bureaucratic “inertia.” He argued that he could never hide the monthly incomes of ministers because they are obliged to issue asset declarations, available to the public, on an annual basis.
The salary hike means that members of Pashinian’s cabinet now earn 1.5 million drams ($3,200) per month, compared with Armenia’s current average monthly wage of 180,000 drams. The average monthly pension in the country stands at only 41,000 drams.
Pashinian dismissed complaints about the huge disparity between the ministerial wages and pensions. “Whether or not a pensioner’s pension will rise depends on the quality of a minister’s work,” he said. “This year we will ensure a 20 percent rise in state revenues and the pensions will rise starting from January 1.”
Ever since coming to power in May 2018 Pashinian has repeatedly stated that paying the ministers and other senior officials decent salaries will contribute to good governance and attract skilled professionals working for private firms to the public sector.
Their salaries were most recently officially raised by the former Armenian government in 2013. Pashinian, then an opposition parliamentarian, strongly opposed the measure, calling it a manifestation of government “cynicism.”