Parliament Endorses Prime Minister’s Program

YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Itar-Tass/Noyan Tapan)–No motions of censure were brought up at the Wednesday session of Armenia’s National Assembly–in what amounted to the parliament’s approval of a program submitted by the new government Tuesday. At 11 a.m.–Wednesday–parliament speaker Khosrov Harutiunian declared the program approved as none of the parliament factions had challenged it within 24 hours from the start of its discussion–as is required by the constitution.

According to the constitution–which provides for a strong executive branch in Armenia–the absence of a vote of no confidence in the government means an automatic approval of its plan of actions by the parliament. "In essence–this is a vote of confidence in the government," Harutiunian said–congratulating Prime Minister Armen Darbinian.

The program–which Darbinian presented Tuesday–called for a continuation of economic reform–involving tight tax administration and privatization of remaining state enterprises. The cabinet has said it will ensure steady and robust economic growth. The document was criticized Tuesday by most of the factions of the parliament–where supporters of President Robert Kocharian command a majority. None of the opposition groups in the legislature has demanded the government’s resignation.

The program outlined the government’s mode of operation as one to be guided by the slogan "strong economy as a guarantee for a powerful democratic and social state." The policy on macroeconomic–structural–field and institutional development was said to transfer economic stability to economic growth and ensure a six percent annual real growth in the gross domestic product. Economic growth was viewed as a precursor to new jobs–domestic savings–foreign investment and an efficient social security system. The government has said that it will not adopt policies with only short term gains.

In the sphere of taxation the government proposed liberal tax approaches aimed at creating new jobs and stimulating investment–as well as exercising tough control which will allow equal conditions for all economic agents. The government said it will apply all its powers to collect taxes and punish those who evade paying them. In coming years the government has planned to further ease the tax burden–prioritizing income tax and profit tax.

To regulate foreign debt the government proposed a special term of tax repayment (8-10 years) due to the fact that the main burden of repayment of foreign debts will fall on the budget in the years 2000-2008.

To have a more concrete tariff policy–prices and tariffs in all spheres of regulated prices were to be transmitted to independent agencies. The dominant direction in Armenia’s industrial development was proposed to be the development of high technologies and Armenia’s integration in the world’s infrastructures. Among industrial development programs four independent spheres were notable: production based on extraction of mineral reserves–state joint stock companies–privatized enterprises–as well as medium-sized and small enterprises.

In the sphere of agriculture the government assured support to the development of cooperation and formation of farm unions which will create favorable conditions for the establishment of farms–sale of agricultural produce. Monopolies were excluded.

Armenia’s government attached special importance to the problem of people’s security. That suggested passing from the system of different allowances and compensations to a single system of family benefits. The following issues were highlighted: social-psychological–labor–rehabilitation of invalids–improvement of the system of orphanages–infantile vagrancy–refugee employment. The government proposed to raise the wages of public servants.

The government also foresaw the elimination of consequences of the earthquake–indexation and repayment of deposits in the USSR Saving Bank. Restoration of the earthquake damaged zone–including ones in Tavush–was scheduled for 2002–for which 25 percent growth of capital construction was to be ensured each year. A natural disaster preparedness program was also proposed.

Darbinian described the program as a realistic one. However–the government believed that the program cannot be realized through its efforts alone. "Presenting the program–the government offers cooperation to the parliament–all political forces–groups and factions–different population strata."

"There is no part dealing with issues of foreign policy in the program of action presented by the government; the program is not like a program at all," Hovhannes Igitian–chairman of the parliamentary standing Committee on Foreign Relations–and member of the Hanrapetutiun faction–told Noyan Tapan.

He said that the "program presents what we want–but it doesn’t answer the question `how?’"

The deputy said that one could hardly accuse the government of presenting "a program that is not like a program," as in that sense the legislative field is empty.

Petros Makeyan–a member of the Homeland deputy group–also felt that the program was of rather declarative character and rather vague–which makes it quite vulnerable.

Sergey Yeritsian–a member of the Yerkrapah deputy group–said "strategically–the program is an attempt to look ahead and see the possible levels of development our country will have to go through within the next several years."

However–according to Yeritsian–people demand more concrete and effective steps. Yeritsian said he is unlikely to be among those who would oppose the program. "I will give my approval–pending specifications," said the deputy.

Parliament member Vahagn Khachatrian said the program presented by the government–as distinct from the ones of the previous government–disseminated new populist ideas "such as `let us complete the restoration of the disaster area by 2001; or let us give our children an education in Armenian spirit.’ The government should have tried to give an assessment of the current situation–instead of this–a program of what should be done in the next five to seven years. It reaffirms my opinion that the government is continuing its former practice that was used during the debate over the 1998 budget when they were trying to make us believe that this is a budget of development–while it becomes clear today that the budget is likely to be reduced," said Khachatrian–addressing a meeting of Parliament.

Khachatrian felt that the adoption of this program is above all a political step. The program–according to the deputy–was presented by the government to test whether it enjoys majority support in the National Assembly. He suggested the government withdraw the program and within a month provide assessment of the current state of the economy.


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