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Armenia’s parliament has adopted a bill to cut the number of ministries from 17 to 12 as part of a government ‘optimisation’ drive.
The National Assembly approved the bill, which also reduces the number of deputy prime ministers from three to two, on 18 April.
‘Our main task is to increase the effectiveness of public administration and relations with the diaspora because today we see gaps and problems in these two directions’, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated during a government session on 7 March.
‘But we will go in this direction through a balanced, calm process. We will not have a “personnel massacre” during this process, the ministries will be consolidated with their positions’, he said.
Pashinyan added that the issue could not be addressed by blindly reducing the number of governmental positions, but that the government needed to ‘solve this unpopular issue in the near future’.
He added that ‘highly qualified personnel’ would work in public services.
The bill was first announced at the end of 2018 and was approved by the government on 7 March.
Criticisms of the plan
When the bill was first announced towards the end of 2018, it faced heavy criticism, especially from the formerly ruling Republican Party. At the time, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Arpine Hovhannisyan, wrote on her Facebook page that ‘as in this process of so-called optimisation, inevitably, legal problems will arise, I express my readiness to support those public servants who will need it’.
The proposed bill was also criticised by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a former coalition partner of the Republican Party that also worked in Pashinyan's government for a short time.
They wrote in a statement that the reforms would create ‘Super overloaded ministries’ that would ‘complicate the development and implementation of a united policy’.
They warned that combining ministries with different functions could ‘lead to a significant decline in the effectiveness of management’.
The criticism continued in the National Assembly during the debate on whether to pass the bill.
Gevorg Gorgisyan, an MP from the opposition Bright Armenia faction recalled that Justice Minister Artak Zeynalyan had criticised the government while in opposition for bringing important decisions and bills to the National Assembly to hastily.
‘What changed in you that you started to treat the National Assembly like this’, Gorgisyan asked, adding that his own faction’s proposals were not properly discussed during the hearing.
Naira Zohrabyan, an MP from the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, criticised the reforms because they would leave a number of civil servants unemployed. She said her party would vote against the bill with clear conviction
Minister of Finance, Atom Janjughazyan, touched upon the criticisms, noting that the reforms should not be considered an effort to reduce the workforce.
The Prosperous Armenia Party and Bright Armenia faction both voted against the bill, but it was adopted by a majority vote.
What’s in the reform
As part of the reforms, the number of ministries was reduced by five. The Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources was merged with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development.
The ministries of Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs, and Education and Sciences were merged into the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport.
And the new Ministry of Economy was created from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic Development and Investments.
The Ministry of Diaspora was abolished, with its responsibilities transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office.
In addition to the restructuring, the government said it planned to raise salaries of state employees, which they said were not competitive with the private sector.