Armenia’s public utility companies have agreed not cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people failing to pay their bills because of economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Wednesday.
The crisis has led to the temporary closure of various businesses across the country. Many of them put their workers on unpaid leave.
Workers with modest salaries and no cash savings have been hit particularly hard by the stoppage. Some of them are now unable to pay their utility bills for last month.
At least one utility, the Gazprom-Armenia gas operator, has refused to grant them a reprieve. One of its employees, Lusine Arustamian, spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service as she disconnected defaulting households of a Yerevan neighborhood from supplies on Wednesday.
Arustamian said that most of its residents have not yet paid their gas bills. She said the Gazprom-Armenia management ordered her to cut off gas supplies to them.
Pensioner Araksya Poghosian lives in of the disconnected apartments with her daughter and a grandchild. She said the gas operator declined her request to wait until the end of this month.
Opposition lawmakers cited more such stories during the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament. They demanded urgent government assistance to the affected families.
Pashinian spoke out against opposition calls for freezing all utility payments, saying that such a measure would be exploited by unscrupulous consumers who can pay their bills. He also argued many other Armenians, notably public sector employees, continue to receive their wages despite the coronavirus lockdown.
Pashinian said the utility bill relief should therefore cover only needy families. He said the Armenian government has already reached relevant understandings with Gazprom-Armenia, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) power utility and the Veolia-Djur national water operator.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian confirmed “preliminary” agreements with ENA and Veolia-Djur and said a similar deal with Gazprom-Armenia will be finalized later on Wednesday.
ENA told RFE/RL’s Armenian service earlier this week that it will not cut electricity supplies to low-income consumers for the time being.