the basket be full?
A law that would establish a legal basis for
determining the basic needs of Armenian families
has passed the first reading in the Parliament
The "Minimal Consumer Goods Basket and Minimal
Subsistence Budget" would provide a guideline
for State aid to the vulnerable, and would influence
such matters as minimum wage and pensions. If
the new law is finally approved, it would be independent
Armenia's first legislation of its kind.
According to the draft "contents and structure
of consumer goods basket must be provided by law".
And the level of minimal subsistence budget must
be fixed once a year "based on data of the
National Statistical Service concerning consumer
cost of food products, nonfood goods and services
included into minimal consumer goods basket".
But while the National Assembly has agreed on
the idea of the law, the preliminary version lacks
specific and, critics say significant, detail.
Specifically, it does not include a recommendation
of what the minimal subsistence baseline should
Rather, the first read version says the government
should establish its help for the socially vulnerable
"based on internationally accepted physiological,
healthcare and social norms".
Speaker of the National Assembly Artur Baghdasaryan
said it was a realization of a memorandum signed
by the coalition according to which "economic
policy of the government must have emphasized
According to the proposed legislation, the specifics
of the "food basket" law would be determined
based on another law, which the coalition would
introduce in the middle of next year.
The current version is "the law on law"
said Viktor Dallakyan, secretary of Ardarutiun
oppositional block and a critic of the draft.
The oppositional block proposed amending the
draft to make provisions requiring the government
to include a variety of goods and marketed services
(water, gas, electricity). Further, the measure
of the minimal subsistence budget must be included
in each year's specified budget.
Contents of the minimal consumer goods basket
will be recalculated every five years according
to the draft.
"If the National Assembly fixes a certain
level and the Government won't be able to bring
that into life then the Government must tender
resignation," Dallakyan said.
Introducing the draft, the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation (Dashnaks) party's Levon Mkrtchyan
initially considered Dallakyan's offers acceptable,
however, those proposals hadn't been included
in the draft put to vote, leading two parliamentary
forces Ardarutiun and National Unity to boycott
voting. (It is possible that those proposals will
be discussed before the second reading.)
Dallakyan also presented figures concerning the
standard of living in Armenia.
According to data of the National Statistical
Service, bread and potatoes make more than 70
percent of the daily ration for 1.5 million of
the population, meaning that 70 percent of the
population's diet is less than the 2,100-calories
of international standard.
And the deputy stressed the plight of Armenia's
poor, citing figures showing a population consisting
of 530,000 pensioners, 114,000 disabled, 42,000
orphans and 40,000 large (four or more children)
According to United Nation data, Armenia's "indigent"
are those who have income less than $1 per day
and "poor" are people who earn less
than $2 per day. According to Dallakyan, that
layer of society makes 80 percent of the population
of Armenia. Only 50 percent, however are officially
In 1997 the Government of Armenia rendered a
decision on working out a minimal consumer goods
basket. However, it wasn't made public and the
citizenry was not informed about figures that
were taken as a basis for paying minimum wages,
pensions and allowances and for calculating per
capita income spent by the state budget.
According to that decision every three months
the National Statistical Service was calculating
the cost of minimal consumer goods basket and
presenting it to the Government. As it became
clear during discussions, for the second quarter
of 2003 the basket was calculated according to
the standard of 2,100 calories and came to about
$26 per person, with foodstuffs accounting for
about $16 of that amount.
Presently, the poverty line is considered to
be about $22.
Whatever its final form, the new law would not
influence the 2004 budget.
"We will have much time to discuss the structure
of minimal basket and methods of calculation,"
It is expected that the law will come into force
beginning January 1, 2004 (and would effect subsequent
budgets), however, it is hardly known outside
the Assembly hall.
Pensioner Nora Harutyunyan says she doesn't follow
the discussions and has no expectations for positive
changes. She only knows about expected increases
in her costs of living.
"What are we going to do? Even without that
we are buried in debts," she says. "We
can't even cover debts for gas and water."
Teacher Seda Sargsyan, has followed the minimal
basket debate closely. Her profession has been
promised a raise in January that will bring her
salary to about $60 per month. The process of
fixing a minimal standard encourages her but:
"I understood only one thing; that the
law is not perfect and it was not clear for me
when it would be realized."