News that several regional governors in Armenia gave themselves and their staff big New Year’s bonuses has incurred the ire of many in the country, who saw in the practice shades of the corruption they thought they had gotten rid of with last year’s change of government.
Governors in several regions, including Ararat, Syunik, Kotayk, and Armavir gave themselves bonuses, which were declared in public filings and uncovered by local journalists. In the case of Ararat Governor Garik Sargsyan, the bonus of $1,424 exceeded his monthly salary of $1,363 and as such appeared to be a violation of the law.
In many other cases, even if the awards were technically legal, they didn’t sit well with many Armenians, who took to social media to complain that state officials were generously rewarding themselves while poverty remains endemic, particularly in Armenia’s regions. “They have the right to feel that way, I understand,” said Lena Nazaryan, the deputy speaker of parliament, asked on January 21 about the scandal. While all of the current governors have been appointed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Nazaryan suggested that the self-rewarding habit was formed during the rule of the former government and that governors should explain their decisions. “They did it through some bad inertia,” she said.
One of the governors, Hunan Poghosyan of the Syunik region, released a statement the same day explaining the bonus of $916 which he and 21 other employees got. Curiously, they received the bonuses in two different tranches on the same day. Poghosyan explained that in fact every employee of the governor’s office got the bonus, and in any case, “Hunan Poghosyan took the money from his award to buy New Year’s presents for children.”
The ruling “My Step” alliance defended the bonuses. “As far as I know everything was done by law,” the head of the alliance’s faction in parliament, Lilit Makunts, told journalists. She added: “To be honest, I don’t know how the law regulates this issue, but the problem is low wages and the best workers need encouragement and rewards.”
Pashinyan has spoken in the past about the need to raise wages for state employees, but said that it will require more revenues: “The salaries of state officials should be increased, but it can only be achieved if as a result of their work the [state budget] is increased,” he said during a November visit to the Gegharqunik region.
The State Control Service, the government agency overseeing government funds management, has yet to comment on the issue.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan. Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.