The two parliamentary opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Bright Armenia (LHK), called for such an inquiry in June as they accused the government of mishandling the coronavirus crisis.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc initially opposed the move. But it reluctantly agreed afterwards to the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission tasked with assessing the effectiveness of government efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The 12-member commission was formed earlier this month. Although the commission is headed by the LHK’s Arkadi Khachatrian, eight of its members are affiliated with My Step.
Some of those members voiced skepticism about the probe during the first meeting of the panel held on Monday. They said it will not be possible to objectively assess the effectiveness of the Armenian authorities’ response to the pandemic as long as it has not been irreversibly contained by any country in the world.
“We are being drawn into a process the effectiveness of which has not been evaluated in the world,” said one of them, Artak Manukian. “There is no [COVID-19] containment model that can be replicated.”
Naira Zohrabian, a commission member representing the opposition BHK, dismissed these misgivings, saying that there are many unanswered questions regarding the government’s fight against the deadly disease.
“We don’t know what the money from the [government’s] COVID-19 fund has been spent on,” said Zohrabian. “We don’t know why ambulances did not react to [calls for help,] why people were dying in their homes, why the former health minister drew up a list of privileged medical centers and only those centers received coronavirus-related government funding.”
Khachatrian reiterated, for his part, that the commission should also look into the government’s efforts to alleviate the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and restrictions on civil liberties imposed during and after last spring’s nationwide lockdown.
Armenia has been hit hard by the pandemic, with over 166,000 coronavirus cases officially confirmed in the country of about 3 million so far. The real number of cases is believed to be much higher.
The Armenian Ministry of Health says that more than 3,000 people have died from COVID-19. The figure does not include the deaths of 753 other Armenians infected with the virus. According to the ministry, they were primarily caused by other diseases.
Opposition politicians and other critics of the government say that many of these deaths were avoidable.
Pashinian insisted on January 19 that the government has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus crisis. He described the Ministry of Health as “one of our most efficient agencies.”