President holds consultation with government officials in charge of economic policy
President Serzh Sargsyan today held a consultation with the government officials in charge of economic policy, during which they continued discussions concerning Armenia’s energy security, its recovery and solutions to the present issues. At the outset, the Armenian president dwelled on the aforementioned questions, the arguments for electricity price increases and presented his positions and approaches to the issues raised during the recent social protests and their possible solutions:
“I and the prime minister talked a lot again yesterday and decided to make our today’s discussion more visible to people, provide coverage despite the fact that working discussions are not usually covered, since the society is primarily interested in results and not in the work aimed at achieving them. Nevertheless, this is important today so that people can follow the course of our intensive discussions held over the last few months, where we started, where we are now and what we want to achieve.
To say the truth, I also wanted to talk with our social activists about this process when they sought for a meeting and I agreed to receive them. Anyway, our approaches to the protest have remained the same even when they failed to create a group to meet with me, and so as our calls to refrain from illegal actions while exercising the right to talk, protest and speak out and, finally, from steps aimed at further overloading the city center.
Yes, the path to democratization and the consolidation of civil society is complex and uneven, but our country has no alternative to the path leading to democracy. We have talked about this many times in recent years. All of us have to embark on this uneven and extended path. We are going to stumble and trundle down that road, work and pass sleepless nights, harm and support each other, teach and learn from each other, misunderstand and listen to each other, mistrust and believe each other, sometimes shout and resent… insult and respect each other, because we all have to follow that path, each on his own… because we have to reach our harbor together without losing each other, by departing and getting closer to each other, but always being together. But may God prevent us from deviating from that path and losing each other in this complex world. In that case, we will lose our future, once more we will lose our ‘we’ and will not find it for many long centuries, and we will become ‘those’ part of other ‘we’ until one day we will again embark on a common path, as in 1988.
When I say that we should learn from each other, we need to always look in each other’s face; I mean everybody and each one.
Authorities, law-enforcement officers and activists have all taken the first steps in this direction, and it is natural.
I also want to clearly express my position to those people, those forces that are ready to provoke and exacerbate the situation for their short-lived interests and shake our trust, who are ready to make a battlefield out of peaceful gatherings for their desire to become a battle commander for just one hour… law enforcement officers have acted and will act strictly and severely against such people…
Unfortunately, there are many questions that are not possible to answer so quickly and the way everybody would like. And often, law-enforcement officers are the ones who pay for rapidly-addressed questions and our expectations, while it is not their burden to deal with them. Often, it is they who are forced to carry out the hardest work, and, unfortunately, often the police officer, whose duty is to ensure public security, becomes a victim of permissiveness.
In this regard, I have to emphasize the role of journalists and media outlets. It is very important not to artificially deliver dramatic episodes of violence and chaos to audience, not to concentrate on some unmanageable adventurists, but to appraise the numerous peaceful protesters, who are exactly the spirit of peaceful protests, their will and mind. One episode of a call for violence can again and again appear on the screen and in social websites, while thousands of peaceful protesters remain in the shadows. Fortunately, I have to note that during these days, more and more often it is exactly the peaceful protesters who have been heroes of our media outlets and it is exactly through the efforts of Armenian media outlets that the world gets balanced information about the events, and our country is able to counter the anti-Armenian misinformation.
I want to state one fact: during these few days, the protesters and the law-enforcement officers have been able to gain greater mutual trust, than it could be possible during a few decades. Of course, I have followed the recent developments and I want to state that during the last week of June Armenia has become a great and effective educational center, a university, where our citizens and law-enforcement officers, journalists and deputies, intellectuals and foreigners have been teaching and learning from each other, have been listening to each other, have even tolerated each other in the face of the utter intolerance towards the issue, and have been listening to each other the way that is rare in many corners of the world.
During these days, everybody is admired by our responsibility and activeness. I expect youth to demonstrate the same prudence and wisdom towards our future. Securing a safe future requires preserving the vital systems that nourish our country’s economy and each of our family. We can’t cut off the pulses and veins of our country’s vital organs just for the reason of catching a disease. We can’t deprive our country of blood and oxygen, by concentrating only on the causes of the problems that have attacked its energetic pulses. Our primary task is to find solutions to save that vital system, by concurrently healing and rebuilding it, making it invulnerable in the future, and we are not alone in this undertaking during difficult times of ours and in complex social situations. In recent years, integration processes have opened up new opportunities for our country. Under the leadership of the prime minster, our officials are working closely with the specialized bodies of the Eurasian Economic Union so that these newly-developing institutions can bring new solutions to neutralize the social burden caused by Armenia’s energy system and objective tariff increases and taking it off the people’s shoulders. It is a process which has entered an active phase, and our officials keep on working consistently with our partners. I believe that the solutions will not make us wait long.
On the other hand, we have developed a roadmap for our actions.
During yesterday’s meeting with the delegation headed by Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov, Co-Chairman of the Armenian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, we stressed that the commission needs to initiate a careful and comprehensive audit at Electric Networks of Armenia CJSC – a subsidiary of INTER RAO UES JSC – with the participation of experts and civil society representatives. Yes, there might be some problems in the subsidiary enterprise, but our governmental bodies have done their best not to include them in the tariff. Nevertheless, we are interested in the possible problems of that company, because we, as a state, seek to increase corporate profits to collect greater corporate taxes. In this respect, not only the Russian side, but also our side needs to carry out an important work. But this is only one side of the story and is not related to tariffs.
Now let’s talk about tariffs.
I strongly believe that the increase in the tariff is justified.
I am also sure that if we do not increase the tariff, our energy system will risk being collapsed on the domino effect principle. Eventually, the older part of population will never forget the consequences of the nuclear plant closing in 1988. At the time, almost everybody was excited with the idea of getting rid of that “devil,” but then it became clear that the real devil was to close the nuclear plant, which has had its negative effects till now. The same is with Nairit. By closing it and hindering its natural development cycle, we have encountered a reality when up until now, the state is forced and compelled to spend additional amounts in this direction.
I can bring dozens of such examples. We have talked a lot about the tariff. Three objective reasons for increase have been presented. Arguments have been brought forward, but it is clear that there is a lack of trust. I consider doubt and mistrust to be our first enemy in such matters. It is those attitudes that should be eliminated first.
I suggest that we select an authoritative international consulting company that has great experience in the energy sector – if it is necessary, we can engage some of the active protesters in the selection process – and instruct that company to answer the following questions with the help of an auditing company:
• What was the rationale to increase the tariff?
• What are the risks of not increasing the tariff for the energy sector?
As I mentioned, I strongly believe that cancelling the tariff increase is extremely dangerous. Hence, until the given company provides its opinion, the government will incur the entire burden of the tariff increase. Of course, we are not going to touch the current programs and the social security expenditures; instead, we will finance it through the resources allocated for the further reinforcement of our security. Of course, to say the least, our security issues are far from being addressed, but I likewise consider the present atmosphere of skepticism and mistrust as a security issue and a crucial problem. It must be tackled.
But if the opinion confirms the rationale for the tariff increase, then from that moment on consumers will cease to doubt and will start to pay according to the tariff rates.
If the opinion finds that there is no reason to increase the tariff, the government will take steps to take back the overpaid amount from Electric Networks of Armenia and to hold the guilty officials responsible.
This is about the directions which we are working towards during these days and have been working for a long time. Of course, we have moved forward through and have discussed a number of other directions. We must address the issue and there is enough time for it.
This much I wanted to say about the logic of our working discussions. In the end, I would like to add the following:
Let nobody thinks that there are conflicting parties concerning the issues of tariff increases, let nobody thinks that there are “ours” and “yours;” it is absurd as much as it is dangerous. I also want to address our young protesters: dears, do not be afraid to take a new responsibility and take part in the real step development process, thereby decreasing the level of skepticism in the society. We have had dozens of such discussions, and we always want you to be part of them. At the end of the process, everybody will be satisfied and understood. Of course, there will still be people who will not approve any solution, who do not favor and will disgrace any solutions, but my today’s speech is not for them, but for the active majority who wants the issue to be resolved and will not be exploited for political purposes.
Thus, let us address the issue and let us do it in a way that will not bring trouble to us. It is always a good thing to stay within one’s limits: the police are able to fulfill any task, but it is not what we want. And for God’s sake, stop paralyzing the city center. By that, you are only going to increase the burden of responsibility on our shoulders, resort to quieter means, free up Baghramyan Avenue and help us in addressing the issues and strengthening trust in them. The energy system, which we try to develop today, is for everybody, and, first of all, for your generation. Listen to my friendly call, do it without fail. I want to invite some of you for talks in a few days. I hope that you will make that meeting a reality more easily. There is a great deal of work to do, and we should end this difficult process together.
This much I wanted to say as a start of our today’s consultation. Of course, to a greater extent, my speech was not for the participants of the consultation. Now let us settle down to our main work and continue discussing issues, including the theses of the Strategic Program for Energy System Development, the program which is expected to be implemented from 2016 to 2036,” said President Serzh Sargsyan during the consultation.