Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian defended on Tuesday state regulators’ decision to allow Armenian utility companies to cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people not paying their bills because of economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 25, Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) banned the companies from doing that for the duration of a coronavirus-related state of emergency which was initially due to end on April 14.
The decision was meant to ease economic hardship resulting from a nationwide lockdown imposed by the Armenian government. The lockdown has hit workers with modest salaries and no cash savings particularly hard.
With the state of emergency subsequently extended until May 14, the PSRC announced last week that all Armenians must now pay their utility bills for February and March. The move prompted claims that the authorities have reneged on their promises.
“When we promised that we hoped that we will end this emergency rule within a month,” said Pashinian. “But who can now say how long this coronavirus crisis will last?”
Pashinian insisted that failure to pay for electricity, gas or water would lead to a “collapse” of the Armenian energy system. “Saying that during this health crisis people don’t have to pay utility bills would mean saying that there will be no electricity in the country,” he said.
In Pashinian words, more than 5,000 defaulting households have already been disconnected from electricity or gas supplies. He claimed that many of them are well-to-do consumers who tried to take advantage of the situation.
Various Armenian media outlets have reported in recent days on concrete poor families unable to pay for electricity and gas because of the economic shutdown.
Earlier this month the government decided to partly compensate more than 500,000 families for their utility bills for February. Pashinian said on April 17 that the government has spent 2.6 billion drams ($5.5 million) for this purpose.