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Armenian Government’s New Military Benefits Tax Aims to Rip Off Citizens, Protesters Claim

Armenia's parliament has begun discussing the controversial military benefits bill, which seeks to introduce a new tax and increase compensation paid to the families of servicemen killed or seriously injured in action. According to the government plan, which has drawn strong criticism from opposition lawmakers and the public, every working Armenian citizen will be obligated to contribute 1,000 drams (about $2) per month to the fund from which the project will be financed. 

A group of citizens calling themselves the “1000-Fold Shame” movement, gathered outside the parliament building on Monday to announce that “Armenia's corrupt authorities have now come up with a new plan to rip off the people in the name of soldiers.” Speaking to Epress.am, Narek Sargsyan, the coordinator of the protest, stated that the planned tax is a consequence of rigged elections and that the Armenian government “has no idea what a state is.”

“A state is supposed to collect taxes and allocate them for financing corresponding institutions and spheres. This new 1000-dram tax is nothing but cynicism and is meant to rip off the people in the name of soldiers. A crime is being committed under the guise of helping Armenia's servicemen. There are 15 thousand police officers in Armenia, and the police budget amounts to 36 billion drams. These 1000 drams are going to cost our people 6 billion drams per year, whereas [authorities] can easily cut the police budget in half and allocate this money to the soldiers,” Sargsyan said,

Human rights activist Artur Sakunts, for his part, told reporters that instead of introducing a new tax, Armenia's government should undertake steps to combat corruption and shadow economy, which would “undoubtedly bring in more revenue” than the 1000-dram tax. “How long can [authorities] go on like this? I don't understand this absurdity; I'm already paying this money in income tax,” Sakunts added.

Several opposition lawmakers, in turn, spoke against the bill from the parliament floor. Heritage faction representative Zaruhi Postanjan, namely, urged her colleagues to vote against the discussion of the bill because “the public clearly does not welcome this idea.”

“It's clear that the tax is being introduced in the pre-election period since today's criminal authorities, particularly Serzh Sargsyan, need additional budgetary resources. Serzh Sargsyan, along with his family, is the first person who needs to be contribute funds to the program. Only then can he demand money from the public,” Postanjan said.

Opposition Armenian National Congress faction leader Levon Zurabyan, for his part, insisted that social benefits for the soldiers' families could be increased through already existing budgetary means. “There is no need to introduce new taxes; especially by trying to play on the people's feelings. This is a very cynical and dangerous approach,” Zurabyan said.

Elinar Vardanyan, a lawmaker with the Prosperous Armenia Party faction, criticised the fact that the program envisaged compensation only for the families of soldiers killed or injured by enemy fire. “A parent doesn't care whether their son was killed by the enemy or some bastard at his military unit,” the MP argued.

Nevertheless, despite the oppositionists' urges, the majority of lawmakers voted to include the bill on the agenda,
Note, according to a statement issued by the presidential press service, the program plans to pay the families of soldiers who are killed or gravely injured during military duty a one-time compensation of 10 million drams. The families of servicemen with less severe injuries will receive a one-time compensation of 5 million drams. In addition, the families of killed or disabled serviceman will receive monthly payments for 20 years ranging from 150, 000 to 300,000 drams, depending on the soldier's rank.