ARF Minimum Wage Campaign Pledge Worries Ruling Part

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–A senior government official affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia Wednesday dismissed as populist the Armenian Revolutionary Federations pre-election pledge to sharply raise the countrys modest pensions and minimum wage. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation has committed itself to more than doubling the minimum monthly wage to 50,000 drams ($140) as early as next year. Its campaign manifesto also says the average pension will be raised from the current 13,400 drams ($38) to 50,000 in 2008 if the party does well in next weeks parliamentary elections. Vazgen Khachikian, the Republican head of the state pension, criticized the campaign pledges in a public debate with Deputy Social Security Minister Artsvik Minasian, an ARF member. We take into account Armenia’s real potential for development, while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is setting objectives which I believe can not be achieved in the foreseeable future, said Khachikian. ARF leaders, including Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian, insist that pensions and broader public spending will grow much faster if the government combats widespread corruption and tax evasion in earnest. However, Minasian disagreed with Khachikians argumen’s saying increasing pensions threefold and making minimum wage 50,000 drams is quite realistic. He said it would not hinder the government to raise the minimum wage to 50,000 drams beginning next year, which, according to him, would require up to 12 billion extra drams. According to the ARFs election platform, social spending next year must go up to $800 million from $600 million, projected by this years budget; in 2008 it is supposed to grow to $1.2 billion and to $1.6 billion in 2010 when it is estimated to be at $4.1 billion with gross domestic product rising to an estimated $19 billion. Minasian said these indexes, coupled with the governments active struggle against the existing shadow economy would allow the proposed raises in wages and pensions. Khachikian attempted to turn the serious debate into a petty and made remarks such as, You know well that the Republican Party leads in all opinion polls. At least, we will get more votes than the ARF.

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