YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan presented his newly formed cabinet’s plan of actions to the Armenian parliament on Thursday, reiterating its pledges to combat corruption and improve the country’s business environment.
“Our primary objective is to ensure a free, fair and competitive environment for business,” Karapetyan told the National Assembly, laying out the government’s economic priorities contained in its policy program.
“Law-abiding economic entities must not notice and must not be affected by the work of tax and customs bodies,” he said. “Contacts between them must be reduced to a minimum. Entrepreneurs must be certain that they can be subjected to criminal liability only in the event of fraud and other offenses dangerous to the public.”
“Let us work with foreign investor in order to prove that it is safe and simply profitable to do business and invest in Armenia,” added Karapetyan.
The 33-page program commits the new government to boosting economic growth in Armenia through a tougher fight against corruption, better tax administration and “equal conditions” for all businesses. It says the government will also reform Armenia’s tax and customs services in order to make tax collection less arbitrary.
Opposition lawmakers questioned the government’s commitment to such reforms. Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party, the second largest parliamentary force, challenged Karapetyan to shed light on measures against corruption and tax evasion promised by him.
“You will see whether or not we do that,” the premier replied, citing relevant provisions of the government program.
The program says, among other things, that the government will seek to criminalize within the next three months “illegal enrichment” of state officials. It will also introduce new legislation on conflicts of interest.
The main official rationale for President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision last month to replace his previous prime minister, Hovik Abrahamian, and roughly half of the government ministers is to speed up economic reforms. Sarkisian said on September 8 that Karapetyan has agreed to “lead a great wave of changes” that will address popular disaffection with the socioeconomic situation in the country.
Leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which is represented in the government by three ministers, said they are encouraged by Karapetyan’s action plan. “We want to believe that things are really changing in the country, that fresh blood is coming into the country,” one of them, Aghvan Vartanian, told a news conference held ahead of the parliament debate on the government program.
By contrast, opposition lawmakers were highly skeptical about its declared objectives. Zohrabian insisted that Karapetyan’s cabinet will not break up economic monopolies because the ruling regime heavily relies on them in holding on to power.
“I don’t think you need a magic wand to identify those individuals who have monopolized Armenia’s economy,” she said during the debate. “Some of them are sitting here, while others are outside [the parliament building.]”
“It is hard to fight against them, Mr. Prime Minister. Why? Because these are individuals who contribute to the regime’s reproduction,” claimed Zohrabian.
Another opposition lawmaker, Tevan Poghosian, strongly criticized the content of the program, saying that it is short on specifics and does not set far-reaching objectives. He said the document dashed his hopes for positive change that could occur under the new premier.