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 December 6, 2002 

Fair Pay?: Salaries for civil servants and government officials set for dramatic increase

Beginning next July civil servants in Armenia will make three to five times the salary as in past years, based on a budget expected to be approved by the end of the year. The President's salary will go up 125 percent. The Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament and Head of Constitutional Court will make three times as much as now.

The newly structured budget, which comes during an election year, has angered a public who questions why authorities' pay should be doubled or tripled while pensioners suffer and many common workers, doctors, teachers go months without receiving even small salaries.

Pensions for the elderly and disadvantaged will be increased by 20 drams (per year of work), less that four cents.

The recent Government action is meant, in part officials say, as a means of curbing corruption. If an official makes a decent salary, it is reasoned, he or she is less likely to take bribes. And bribery in Armenia is a well-known way of life.

Minister of Finance and Economy Vardan Khachatryan (pictured) says the salary increases will at least partly deter graft.

It is mentioned in the anti-corruption program (a requirement of the Council of Europe) that salaries of those people must be increased, who deal with big sums of money. "It will be hard for people, who earn 5,000 drams and who deal with 500 million drams, to let slip the chance of lining his or her pockets," Khachatryan says.

Increases for Customs and tax officials is part of an overall anti-corruption program mentioned by the Minister. Salaries increases for elected officials were imposed for other reasons.

"A Minister must earn enough money so that he doesn't think 24 hours a day where to take money from," Khachatryan says. The Minister also told reporters there are obligations that justify the increase for officials.

Before he was a Minister, Khacatryan said, he needed only one suit.

"Now I have 10 meetings per day. It is a question of image."

The image of tax inspectors and judges, as acknowledged by the Government's anti-corruption campaign, is of civil servants on the take.

Reliable sources told ArmeniaNow that behind the scenes in Armenia's judicial practice, it is well known that certain judges will lessen a prison sentence at a rate of $2,000 per year reduced.

"The number of graft cases is very large, however statistics we have are too small and cannot show all the picture," says Gurgen Ambaryan, head of Public and Press Relations for the General Prosecutor's office.

Last year 36 cases of graft were investigated. So far this year, there have been 11.

Ambaryan says there is a simple explanation for why most cases of bribery aren't exposed.

"If you give me a bribe and I will take it then graft won't be revealed," he says, "as it is profitable both for me and you. And both sides are satisfied."

Edmond Zargaryan, Head of Press Service of the Ministry of State Incomes, says it is not possible that a tax inspector who earns 20,000 or 30,000 drams (about $40-60), can ensure 1 billion drams of budget income without taking even a cent of bribe. And the same situation is with customs officers.

But one tax inspector who spoke to ArmeniaNow on condition of anonymity said even a $200 a month salary would not discourage him from making illegal transactions with private traders.

"We earn more money by coming to an agreement with businessmen when we reduce tax penalties," the inspector said, adding that such transactions are encouraged by his chief.

Twenty-percent salary increases are on order for January 1 for teachers, librarians and museum attendants. Such professionals and employees who now make about $10 to $19 will make $12 to $21 beginning next month.

Khachatryan says the increase will at least allow them to climb above the poverty line (the current minimum wage is about $10 in Armenia).

The increase is little encouragement to average citizens, angered by the disparity between those salaries and the ones officials voted for themselves.

"I'm not enthusiastic at all as it's not possible even to live from hand to mouth neither with the help of my salary nor my pension," says Gevorg Abajyan, who has a doctorate degree in art criticism and is a pensioner. "That increase is an ignominious thing."

Abajyan says those who choose to fight corruption by increasing salaries don't understand human psychology.

"The more you give a greedy person, the more he wants to take," he says.

Where the money will go

Tax and Customs Civil Servants
Current approximate monthly salary: $40-70
Salary for 2003: $120-200
Increase: 200%
Current approximate monthly salary: $400
Salary for 2003: $1000
Increase: 125%
Speaker of National Assembly, Prime Minister, Head of Constitutional Court
Current approximate monthly salary: $300
Salary for 2003: $900
Increase: 200%
Members of Parliament
Current approximate monthly salary: $200
Salary for 2003: $600
Increase: 200%
Current approximate monthly salary: $10-19
Salary for 2003: $12-21
Increase: 20%

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