Tuesday, 10 December

Why Are These MP’s Getting Paid?

Salaries and expense allowances for legislative inaction According to the line in the 2010 RA Budget dealing with “financial social benefits”, 23.58 million AMD was allocated to Armenia’s parliament. At first glance, one might think that the 131 MP’s sitting in the Armenian legislature had gone broke and were in need of a bailout. The National Assembly’s Press Office informed Hetq that the monetary benefits allocated weren’t the poverty assistance benefits we all think of but rather monthly allotments of 15,000 AMD to all the MP’s as a kind of expense stipend. And get this; there is a law on the books allowing for such an expense allowance for the executive, legislative and judicial branch managers. Now, we all know that most our MP’s really don’t live off of their official 300,000 monthly salaries and could care less about pocketing a measly 15,000 in extra expense money. Almost all of them have businesses on the side. The reason that they got themselves “elected: to the parliament is for the power and prestige the office affords and how they can parley that P & P into cash dividends. Most stay on in parliament for this reason alone and have little desire to actually draft legislation. Samvel Aleksanyan – “I’m a busy guy” For example, MP Samvel Aleksanyan can be seen in parliament only 1-2 times a year. One only has to take a look at the vote count for individual MP’s as listed on the parliament’s website. Despite his spotty record as a legislator, Aleksanyan and others pocket an extra 15,000 every month. We asked Mr. Aleksanyan why he wasn’t more active in the actual workings of the legislature. “I go to the National Assembly. Hey, give me a break. I’m a busy guy,” was his response. We then asked the MP when he actually goes to parliament. “The day you go will be the day I go,” he joked. “I make it to all the quarterly sessions,” I told Aleksanyan. “And I go every day. Give it a rest,” the MP replied. I then asked if he received the 15,000 AMD every month and his 300K salary. “My salary goes to a kindergarten,” Aleksanyan answered. Even though the businessman/MP views this as an act of charity, in fact Samvel Aleksanyan has nothing to be proud of. He receives a salary, a state salary funded by taxpayers’ money, for doing absolutely nothing. Sure, he has a seat in the parliament but you’d be hard-pressed to point to any actual work he has done there. Thus, the salary he so graciously hands over to the kindergarten is actually money coming from Armenian taxpayers like you and me. But it’s MP Aleksanyan who basks in the limelight of being an altruistic benefactor. I then asked Samvel Aleksanyan if he was preparing to run for reelection next year. “I’ll tell you when the election season starts,” he coyly answered. By the way, insiders at the parliament told me that the salaries of all the MP’s are electronically deposited in their bank accounts, including Aleksanyan. This reporter had a hard enough time actually getting a hold of Aleksanyan for a chat. He never answered my phone calls for days. The HHK party parliamentary office told me that if they needed to get in touch with the MP for any reason, they called his chauffeur. They weren’t at liberty to give me the driver’s phone number. I guess that’s a state secret as well. MP Aleksanyan’s administrative assistant is not to be found within the halls of parliament either. The HHK office did give me this number. Artak, the MP’s assistant, was quick to point out that he had only missed one week due to an ankle injury. It seems he slipped on some ice and fell. “You can ask all the questions you want, but my answer will be the same,” Artak confessed. “I really can’t be bothered.” With that, the assistant hung up on me. MP Ashot Apoyan – “The 15,000 goes to charity” ARF MP Ashot Apoyan, who owns Ashtarak Milk, is another legislator you’ll rarely run across in parliament. I asked Apoyan as well about his lack of legislative activity and what he did with the 15,000 expense stipend. “From day one, I’ve used that money for various charitable purposes and not for myself. If you have any idea about the work I do, then you’d know that my family’s budget isn’t based on such an amount. I even spend a majority of my business profits on charity,” MP Ashot Apoyan said. MP Apoyan said he had health issues that prevented him from regularly attending legislative sessions, but that he presents bills and other ideas via his assistant. “Honestly, I really don’t see myself as being so important in the political and social arena. If I physically do not participate in the work of the legislature, my assistant gives me the draft packages, especially the economic and financial ones, for review. If I have suggestions, I get in touch with the party’s parliamentary reps or the appropriate subcommittee.” MP Tigran Arzakantsyan – Another no-show HHK MP Tigran Arzakantsyan is another one who seems to give precedence to his business concerns over serving as a law maker. We never saw him during the eighth parliamentary session this past fall.  There was another four day sitting at the ninth session, but the MP wasn’t to be found there either. I asked Hovik Mkrtichyan, MP Arzakantsyan’s assistant, about the legislator’s poor attendance record. “He hasn’t attended sessions for the past month or so,” answered Mkrtichyan, adding, “Why are you asking me? How should I know why the MP doesn’t come to parliament?” Mkrtichyan said he goes to work every day because the MP gives him directives to fulfill. When I asked what types of directives and how they were transmitted, given that the MP personally doesn’t come to parliament, Mkrtichyan said, “Now we’re getting into personal matters. I am an employee of the National Assembly and have to show up for work every day, whether or not the MP has things for me to do. Maybe he has other problems to take care of. Who doesn’t have problems today? However, am I really competent enough to say why he doesn’t show up and for how long?” Hovik Mkrtichyan got hot under the collar when we asked why the MP’s absenteeism didn’t seem to upset him. “Should I, an assistant, care about an MP’s comings and goings? Nothing of the sort is written in my job contract. He never tells me why he shows up or doesn’t show up. It’s not my business,” Mkrtichyan added. I should point out to readers that the number of MP’s receiving salaries and expense allowances for doing next to nothing in the legislature is quite large. One can count the number of MP’s who are actually active in legislative affairs on the fingers of both hands. I asked National Assembly President Hovik Abrahamyan if he was satisfied with the overall job performance of the MP’s. “The President of the National Assembly can’t really do much regarding job quality. They are MP’s elected on a plurality basis. Then, there are MP’s elected on a proportional party slate by voters. It is not I or you doing the selection. We only have our one vote. If there was any chance for the quality to be better, it would be,” was his answer.

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