BY RAZMIG SHIRINIAN
What seems to be noteworthy in most of the platform, or the plan of action, announced by the newly appointed government in Armenia in late October of 2016, are its indigenous orientation and an emphasis on infrastructural development.
The primary concern in this plan seems to be the development process tailored to the local needs. The emphasis is the priority of endogenous elements of development, such as civil service reform, tax reform, infrastructural development, and democratization, all akin to the new government policies. For the first time, the process of development in Armenia is deliberated as closely engrained in the socio-political setting of the country.
Remarkably, the plan is geared to address the long standing predicament that Armenia’s economic growth has yet to be matched by development of its infrastructure and by institutional competence of its governance. The growth story in the country, since its independence in 1991, has not yet translated into a widespread and functioning liberal democracy envisioned by the intelligentsia as well as a large number of NGOs and civil society groups. This certainly has caused great social and political stress that the government has to contend with, even more now than during the first two decades of independence.
Some bold directives issued by the Prime Minister, Karen Karapetyan, for the new program seem to directly confront the current challenges of socio-economic development. The primary concern in these directives was to actively work with regional governors on projects aimed at improving the business environment and creating jobs in the provinces. The goal is to advance a business environment built on a platform and feedback through which the business community and the public at large can communicate their suggestions, complaints, and applications.
Notably, regional governors are required to submit a development plan for their province. They are required to draft community development programs in cooperation with individual communities, with special focus on consolidated or enlarged communities so that all programs might be implemented in practice.
Projects of job-extensive enterprises are mandated with a corresponding rationale behind each project. There is a need, as stressed by Karapetyan, to drastically change the quality of managers; “if we do not change it, we will not have a good life,” he stated. Moreover, in attempt to link government institutions with the local programs, governors are mandated to cooperate with the ministries of Agriculture, Education and Science and the National Agrarian University of Armenia in order to understand whether the practical skills and knowledge provided under the existing programs meet the local demand and, to this end, promote appropriate regional programs for professional enhancement.
Proposals and recommendations are underway on how local administrations’ performance shall be assessed in terms of investments, jobs, exports, the business environment, educational and IT programs, training of farmers in the agricultural sector, employment programs, sports and other health and recreational activities.
Prime Minister Karapetyan has highlighted the importance of public feedback saying “we must show our citizens that we are working in accordance with their mandate and in a bid to comply with their expectations.” He required giving the public regular updates of the work done, provide feedback and introduce the vector of government activities.
What seems to be a significant change for the people of Armenia at the present juncture is the increased prospect of development, or governance in which the government will have to play a more conducive role in the politics of development informed by common values and not vested oligarchic interests. Such government approach will ultimately contribute to establishing adequate and open social institutions leading to a far more consensual public and a just governing system.
Like most other developing countries, Armenia’s stability seems to be largely influenced by its socio-economic development. This would require major structural reforms to use the benefits derived from economic growth to eliminate poverty, improve educational, social, and health services and reverse the trend of the country’s diminishing population. The new Prime Minister seems to have initiated the essential reforms in this direction.
For the first time in the country, state-society relationship has become a clear policy dimension in the general platform of development. The new program underlines the need to clarify the process of development closely embedded in the local economic and socio-political milieu and explores the inherent links between the state and society. External pressures notwithstanding, the plan attempts to envision Armenia as a stable state and explores the relations between the principal institutions, such as courts, treasury, legislature, executive—and society in general.
Furthermore, as the plan focuses on the endogenous and inward-oriented economic, political, cultural, and social policies, the prevalent development framework entails the concept of human development. As economist Amartya Sen has articulated, the human development idea essentially aims to create and develop opportunities for the creative realization of the human beings, eventually to expand their freedoms. This idea of development, explicit in the new program, embraces diverse paths and incorporates different aspects of human life. It goes beyond the scope of economic development and aims at the social conditions of the people as the main goal of development.
This is a far-reaching and a bold plan that evokes the creation and promotion of an atmosphere in which individual potential can grow and a comfortable life of the Armenian people can be safeguarded. Remarkably, it is a plan that, in practice, can essentially appeal to the populace and sets the foundation of policy instigations for democratic development.
Razmig B. Shirinian is a Professor of Political Science at the College of the Canyons.