Officials Prepare for Budget Debates

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–As committees in parliament continue to evaluate the government’s draft budget for next year–the Armenian government Monday sought to win support of domestic public and international financial institutes for its spending bill.

Discussions in the committees opened on Saturday and will continue until the issue is taken up by the National Assembly on December 7.

As part of his efforts to garner support for the budget–Prime Minister Armen Darbinian met on Monday with leaders of the Communist Party and Self-Determination Union–which are represented in parliament with two small factions. Last week–Darbinian discussed the issue with one of the most outspoken critics of his cabinet–the opposition National Democratic Union.

It is not yet known if the parties have already formulated their position on the 1999 budget–which projects 283 billion drams ($566 million) in expenditure and 232 billion drams in revenues.

The government plans that roughly 95 percent of the deficit worth 51 billion drams will be covered from "non-inflationary" external sources–involving loans and gran’s. Under the draft budget–with 38.6 billion drams–defense will continue to receive the biggest share of public money in Armenia. It is followed by education (25.2 billion drams) and social security (23 billion).

President Robert Kocharian described the bill as "absolutely realistic" on Monday at a meeting in Yerevan with a senior official from the International Monetary Fund.

Kocharian was quoted by his press service as telling Luis Valdivieso that "it will enable us to be more flexible–save the country from crisis situations while ensuring a normal pace of development." Valdivieso also discussed ways to "reinforce macroeconomic stability" in Armenia–the press service said.

Armenia is in its final year of the IMF’s $136.6 million loan program (Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility)–launched in February 1996. Negotiations are still under way on the release of the remaining $45 million that has yet to be drawn by Yerevan.

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