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Speaker Alen Simonyan's Hefty Bonuses Spark Controversy in Armenian Parliament

Armenian Speaker of Parliament Alen Simonyan

Armenian Speaker of Parliament Alen Simonyan has ignited fresh controversy by awarding substantial bonuses to parliament members and staff, equivalent to their monthly salaries. This announcement has stirred public debate and criticism, creating concerns about government spending amid the country's ongoing challenges.


The bonuses were ordered by Simonyan in celebration of Armenia’s Constitution Day on July 5, as confirmed by the parliament’s press service. The total amount of public funds allocated for these bonuses will be disclosed later this month. This move follows a previous bonus allocation in late December, which cost taxpayers over 500 million drams ($1.3 million).


At that time, Simonyan had pledged to limit such bonuses to twice a year, specifically on September 21 (Armenia’s Independence Day) and at the end of the year. However, this recent bonus disbursement raises questions about the adherence to that pledge.


The latest bonuses, ironically dedicated to the 29th anniversary of the adoption of Armenia’s current constitution—which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan aims to replace—prompted a swift response from opposition groups in the National Assembly. These groups announced that their lawmakers would donate their bonuses to charities or citizens in need. In contrast, members of Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party did not follow this example. Pro-government parliamentarian Hovik Aghazaryan openly stated that he would not make any donations.


Aghazaryan bluntly remarked, “Well, if citizens guarantee that they will reelect me as a parliament deputy for 20 more years so that I can repay my mortgage, I will send money to the place shown by them. But two years later, I may no longer be a deputy and may be stuck with a $50,000 debt.”


Many Armenians view the bonuses as an unacceptable extravagance, especially given the severe security and socioeconomic issues the country is facing. The net salary of a rank-and-file Armenian lawmaker is about 600,000 drams ($1,550) per month, which is more than twice the country’s official average monthly wage.


Since Pashinyan came to power in 2018, the amounts and frequency of bonuses paid to civil servants, particularly high-ranking government officials and parliamentarians, have significantly increased. Responding to criticism, Pashinyan has argued that these payments are intended to discourage corrupt practices within the government.


Armenia’s leading anti-corruption watchdog has dismissed Pashinyan's explanation, asserting that the disproportionate bonuses are designed to ensure the loyalty of Pashinyan’s political allies and other senior officials to the prime minister.


The debate over these bonuses highlights broader concerns about government transparency and fiscal responsibility in Armenia. As the country navigates its current challenges, the actions of its leaders will continue to be scrutinized by both the public and watchdog organizations.

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