26 հունիս, 2018 12:50

Q/A with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

On Monday night, June 25, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan responded to questions that had been solicited from the Facebook public, by choosing those which had received the most “Likes”. He chose the questions in order of their popularity. During the more than one hour session, he read and responded to questions about home ownership, bank loans and rates for mortgages, agricultural work, families and expectations, health and vaccinations, military service and the needs of soldiers, public protests, the distinction between political persecution and a search for justice. He promised to hold similar such Q/A sessions frequently.

About mortgage loans

Q: Please speak about young families, their access to mortgage loans, what new plans are there in this area? How realistic is it that a couple with an average salary can have a home and also support one child?   A young family can’t work towards a house without a deposit, and accumulating a deposit is very hard.

PASHINYAN: We’ve worked on this with the Central Bank. We’ll have another meeting tomorrow. But I think we’ll have some good news. I want to note two things: We will continue and promote the ‘Homes for young families’ program as well as starting up with the ‘Homes for Soldiers’ program that was being discussed during the previous administration.  News is that we will have unprecedented low mortgage interest rates, and there is a great probability that through this program we will be able to have a 7 or 7.5% mortgage rates, and will implement this program in large capacity. The soldiers will receive loans without interest. The question was whether a family with an average salary would be able to have a home and a child.  Of course, we need to understand what ‘average salary’ means. But according to the experts at the Central Bank, for a 20,000,000 AMD home, monthly payments will be 100,000 AMD. And if we think an average combined income for two working adults, is 400, 450, or 500,000 AMD, then there is an opportunity, and the more successful the program, then in the future, those rates will also come down. Especially if we can at this stage give the hopeful contractors hopeful rates, then it will be better.  As for the deposit, we expect they too will be reduced. For soldiers, it might be 10%, and for young families the deposit might come down from 30 to 20%. These are preliminary assessments.

Again, our consultations are tomorrow, something we had planned earlier. And as it turned out, today’s most popular question turned out to be about this topic. Also, we have decided to promote the availability of mortgages and construction outside Yerevan, in the regions, where possible. This is important so that in the case of newly constructed apartments, the return of income tax will work. If the home is in a newly built building, the tax due the government will be used to pay off the mortgage. So, the government will be involved in repaying loans which is a great opportunity I think.

If we look at these three opportunities together, we will have great accessible conditions for new construction. Of course it’s important to find serious contractors who complete their responsibilities, and those financial instruments will be possible to invest additional financial resources and create serious new projects. Tomorrow, we will reach final decisions on these issues. These are preliminary assessments, but I’m fairly certain – leaving just a little space for change -- that these programs will be realized. I hope this answers certain questions. And the continuation of this program will make it possible to broaden the scale, reduce interest rates, and decrease the deposit levels.

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Q: The next question had over 4000 likes – How are you Mr. Pashinyan Jan.

PASHINYAN: I’m fine. I’m good. I’m very happy to be able to serve you. I’m impatient to see the results that we all expect.  There are some results already and there will be more in a variety of directions. They will be more tangible, more weighty, and I’m happy to have this opportunity. I’m convinced it won’t be lost, the question is will those successes be 80 or 90 on a scale of 100, or …  Of course, our intention is to have maximal outcomes and to maximally serve our citizens and our country. Thank you for your interest.

About the situation on Karabakh borders

Q – Please talk about the situation around the Karabakh borders. Is the situation really unprecedented?  Is there a greater danger of war? Plus I want to thank you because It’s already been a month that we have not sent them care packages. And they just came home on leave, with new uniform, new shoes, and their travel paid for.

PASHINYAN: Thank you for the question. Again, the question had received more than 4,000 likes. Let me tell you.  This has been a time when the average number of shootings and ceasefire violations has been unprecendentedly low. Not high, but low -- at the level of the early 2000s. In other words, since I’ve been elected PM, this has been a record low time for shootings. Still, we’ve had victims. And yes, on the border, in certain places, the Azerbaijani forces have moved and concentrated forces.  As refers to the increased likelihood of war, I think we must be ready for that at any time. My orders to the military forces has been not to lose focus at any time. But I cannot say this situation is unprecedented in any way. This is normal and familiar and has been for a long time. As far as shootings go, it might be less than usual, but still, their forces are being amassed at the border in some places. And in fact, we are in a situation of semi-war. That can change at any time. But we shouldn’t divert from our life. We will continue our work. The armed forces will continue their work. I don’t want to say there’s need to worry. But I also don’t want to say there’s no need to worry. Everything is as we know it to be.  We are working to raise the readiness of our armed forces. And we must do all we can so that the armed forces feel our support and we must do what we can to obviate the abuse of soldiers’ rights and we must work to assure better conditions for military service. If we are speaking about a new precedent level… If anything, it is unprecedented low and peaceful. We have periods of time when things are more quiet than they’ve been for 15 years, in terms of breaking the ceasefire regime. But generally, we are in a conflict, and can’t forget that. We must be firm on our own feet, to defend our country at every minute. I am hopeful that we are prepared, but also hopeful that we won’t need that. We will not start a war. You know that. It is Azerbaijan that uses such rhetoric. But I am also hopeful that Azerbaijan understands that the Karabakh conflict has no military solution. Because a military conflict will bring unavoidable consequences. And if Azerbaijan thinks that those consequences don’t refer to them, I think no country should follow such temptation.  That much on this. Our slogan remains the same – ‘Dukhov’, with the conviction to protect our country.

About small and medium businesses

Q: Mr. Pashinyan, small and medium businesses require specific allowances. Today, they are placed in the same category as big business. That is catastrophic. Change that please.

PASHINYAN: I agree with you categorically.  Our policy must be to protest small and medium businesses from being swallowed. The discussions have begun. This week we will have a small working consultation on what steps to take to protect small and medium businesses. There are different thoughts – what are the mechanisms to best protect small and medium businesses. We must create real conditions for their development. I won’t talk about those yet. We will listen to the experts on this topic, and then reach conclusions. I have my thoughts but I want to pass them through the experts filters. We must protect the interests of small and medium business. I understand that people expect more speedy actions. We have taken certain steps. Many individual sellers have already dropped their prices.

We are also working with the customs and tax authorities to create normal conditions for small and medium businesses. We are hearing that some things have improved. But we still hear alarms that some things are still problematic. We won’t drop this issue. We won’t say that they’ve reported that all is well, and so we won’t think about this again. We will tackle all issues in order, and we will not forget the needs of small and medium businesses. On the contrary, we will do what we can so that business grows in this country. 

About Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians

Q – Dear Prime Minister, Help the people to be rid of Karekin II. People are afraid, as are many clerics who want this as well. Let me add that Karekin II does not allow the news media to cover this issue.

PASHINYAN: I’ve expressed my opinion on this topic. It hasn’t changed. I believe that the church and the state are distinct from each other. I don’t believe the state should become involved in church affairs. I, as prime minister, believe that the state should not get involved in church issues.

About Ruben Hayrapetyan, President of the Football Federation

Q – A question regarding the president of the football federation. When is Nemets Rubo’s term over? [Nemets Rubo is the nickname for Football Federation President Ruben Hayrapetyan.]

PASHINYAN: As you know the Football Federation is an NGO. As far as I know, they are to hold elections soon. I hope that the elections will reflect the will of the Armenian people and football fans. But that matter must be dealt with by people who will participate in those elections and vote.

About Taron Margaryan, Mayor of Yerevan

Q – It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the video on the web today about Mayor Taron Margaryan.

PASHINYAN: What can I say. That video raises many questions which I hope the investigative bodies will be able to provide answers to. You know that charges have been filed against the Yerevan Fund by the National Security Service. That investigation continues. I think the topics that were raised by today’s video have also been sent to the NSS and you should have no doubt that they will be investigated in detail and will be dealt with, as provided by the law. Today, there were acts of civil disobedience in front of city call. And when I hear about these things, I’m confused. The impression is that the dear and respectable protestors think that the government is not engaged in addressing those issues. That seems illogical to me.  Such actions pressure the government to divert from its ‘main work’ and think about what is happening, to prevent conflict there, conflict that would change the natural pace of events.

I’ve made an appeal about this in the past. And I’ll make it again. Dear compatriots. There is no doubt that we are and will continue to address all such issues. And that engagement will not be prejudicial. It will be based on facts. We understand that there will not be political persecution in Armenia. If there are political prisoners or political persecution, we will demean or devalue our whole movement. So, no warning will go uninvestigaged. Any action must be based on facts. You saw the brouhaha on the web when Manuel Grigoryan was arrested, before we announced what the charges were – the people’s hero, even alleging that the Azerbaijanis were joyous over his arrest. Imagine if we’d made announcements prematurely about his arrest and if those statements were not founded in fact.

The whole process would have been delegitimized. Please, I appeal to you, carry out those acts of civil disobedience when you believe the government is not doing its work. Come hold those protests in front of the government building. Because when we receive alarms that such actions are taking place, we must focus on making sure that no conflicts take place and there are no new crises. If you believe that the government is doing its job… we came to office in order not to have to take to the street.  We established our rule by standing on the street. We did all that to now go back to the street? That was not the purpose of our political movement. So, I appeal to our supporters to abstain from such activity – so that we can distinguish who is undertaking such activities as a form of sabotage, and who is justifiably taking to those methods. I am appealing to you to cease all acts of civil disobedience.

Today, this government is a government that enjoys the people’s confidence. So, who is that kind of sabotage aimed at? Does anyone today think that Taron Margaryan or the others’ work will remain unexamined? On the other hand, we do not have the right to issue verdicts on their work. Our work will depend on facts and evidence. Please allow those process to take place. And those acts of civil disobedience cannot take place when there is a government that enjoys the people’s confidence. Those things happen when there is no such government. This is simple logic. I’ve made this appeal before. I’m asking again. Because by doing that, we divert from our own agenda. Because when there’s the possibility of a crisis somewhere, naturally, we stop what we’re doing to try to resolve that issue, and naturally then, we are setting aside our agenda. We must be able to distinguish between who is engaged with sabotage. Today, in Armenia, there are so many things happening, under this smoky cover so many forces trying to solve small or large issues, there are many things happening, trying to set traps for the government.  We won’t fall of course, we know what we’re doing, and we will continue to do so systematically and all issues will be discussed.

About high interest agricultural loans

Q: Dear Prime Minister, I’m writing to you with a very important question. Many villagers rely on large loans, and the high interest rates of these loans put many of them under enormous debt. My suggestion is to lower or cut the interest rates of those loans that are greater than 1 million AMD. This will give them the ability to repay their debt. Thank you.

PASHINYAN: As you are aware, we recently initiated changes to the tax code, and the National Assembly excepted those changes. The purpose of these changes was to enable the banks to forgive the fines and penalties and to bring the banks and the borrowers to the level they were at when the loan was initiated. The problem was that according to the previous tax code, if the bank forgave any amount owned by the borrower, it would be considered a extra income for the bank for which the bank would need to pay taxes. But now it has been changed so that forgiving money does not create tax issues for the bank. This will encourage the banks to limit fines and forgive loans, and to negotiate with the owners of the loans to find solutions. So, the National Assembly has already acted on this issue.

Now it’s the banks’ turn to take steps. I’m sure the banks will act soon. So the fines and penalties will be forgiven and this will ensure that relations between the banks and the borrowers are back to where they were when the loan was initiated. In some cases, there could even be the possibility of forgiving all of the loans. I understand that this is not a wholistic solution. But this is a step that I hope will alleviate some of the pressures and we will continue to move forward in this way. I share your concerns, but we also have to take into account the stability of the banks, and so we need to take balanced measures towards a real solution.

About children vaccinations

Q: Mr. Pashinyan, how many more children must die or become handicapped because of doctors? When will you present to the public a complete report about what is injected into our children in clinics? What are your hopes for your appointed Minister of Health who is involved in propaganda activities for an unknown medicine that could also be injected into your children?

PASHINYAN: This question is regarding vaccinations.I would like to let you know that I have heard these rumors since I was a member of parliament. I would also like to let you know my personal opinion. My children have received, are receiving and will continue to receive all vaccinations. I have never had concerns throughout my time as a member of parliament that in Armenia the vaccination process had any problems. As in many countries around the world, in Armenia as well, at times there are unfortunate incidents caused from vaccines. However, that is absolutely not an excuse to spread misinformation. Not long ago, we made a governmental decision that the purchase of new batch of vaccines would only include the highest possible quality. And my children, without any exceptions, have always received all of the necessary vaccinations.

Of course, if there are instances where the vaccines have caused issues, then there should be an investigation and I urge everyone who has credible information regarding malpractice of any doctor to let us know and we will investigate that case. In August, Armenia will receive a new batch of vaccines and those will be top quality. There is no doubt in that. It’s absurd to think that we would purchase vaccines that hurt our population. I urge all citizens to have their kids vaccinated because that is a big health issue for the country.

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Q: Why are you not urging that each Armenian family have one more child? So that we can quickly reach 4 million population.

PASHINYAN: Well, I, myself, have four children. And to those families who do not have four children, well, I urge and encourage you to have four kids.

About hygiene products and food of soldiers

Q: Dear Prime Minister, my brother served in the army. According to your decision, we are not allowed to send hygiene products and food to him. However, whenever we talk with him, we find out that the army officials do not give them food. The soldiers are hungry and are asking for money so that they can purchase food. We have the means to help my brother, but others don’t. Our soldiers need food, we are not asking for much.

PASHINYAN: Today, during a National Security session, we discussed all of those issues. And I continue to insist that food must be provided for all soldiers in all units. In the cases where you find out that food is not provided to soldiers, I urge you to take to the press, make noise through social media, and call onto the government, call on the prime minister’s staff. We all have the same goal of eliminating those situations. As you heard, earlier someone was thinking us for solving that problem. But now you have found a place where that problem hasn’t been solved. Help us find that exact location so that we can solve that problem. Soldiers must be provided with food, adequate clothing, and conditions. We will get rid of this problem, there’s no other way. Uncovering the corruption related to Manvel Grigoryan was importantly exactly for that reason. We showed that those who take away from soldiers will be punished. If before this was only said, now it is actually done. But let’s also honor those commanders who bring food from their homes to feed the soldiers. And yes, of course, there are those who steal, but we can’t put them all together in one category.

Q: Dear Prime Minister, why are soldiers calling home and asking for food from their parents?

PASHINYAN: I have already gone over this question. But I also want to add that the soldiers’ menu in the army is different from the menu they get at home. But of course, we’re also working to improve the food quality and this was discussed during the National Security session today. This issue will continue to be at the center of our discussions as I completely share your concerns regarding this problem and I have no doubt that these issues will be solved. And again, I’m asking you to report whenever you find abuse in the military. Please send us the exact location of the abuse so that we can investigate and solve the problem.

About the former President Robert Kocharyan

Q: Dear Mr. Pashinyan, do you share the hopes of the public that Robert Kocharyan will be put behind bars, and billions of his stolen dollars would be returned to the federal government?

PASHINYAN: As I’ve said before, I cannot put anyone behind bars. However, I can and will put those who have committed financial abuse and those who have gained well at the expense of public funds, behind bars. And the decisions regarding who will be behind bars and who will not be behind bars, will be made by the prosecutors office.

About street animals

Q: Dear Mr. Pashinyan, would it be possible to place the volunteer-run shelters for street animals under the government umbrella? And to pass a law for the protection of animals to limit abuse and punish those who abuse animals?

PASHINYAN: I completely share your concerns. Regarding the issue of street dogs, the police have uncovered mass abuses in one such organization, and there’s an investigation going on. I know that today there exist many organizations that work on this issue. And of course we we will assess your suggest a possibility. I agree with you that the animals should not be allowed to be abused.

About the development of Armenia's regions

Q: Much of Armenia’s population is concentrated in Yerevan and much of the regions do not have large opportunities to develop. What type of programs are in place for the development of these regions? Is it possible to move some of the ministries into the regions? For example, the Ministry of Culture can be moved to Gyumri, Lori, Syunik, or other regions? 

PASHINYAN: Of course, development beyond Yerevan is an important issue. Even today, when I met with Russian investors, it was a main point to encourage investment as much as possible in the regions. We’re going to ensure that most of the projects in the construction sphere take place outside of Yerevan. When it comes to the transfer of ministries, the Minister of Culture has herself said that she’s not against operating from the regions. However, we still need to assess the effectiveness and impact of such a transfer.

About incidents on the Nakhichevani borderline

Q: Dear prime minister, you have not yet commented on the incidents that occurred in Nakhichevan. According to reports, Azerbaijan has made considerable gains, taking over important and advantageous high lookouts.

PASHINYAN: Securing a major high-altitude post. Such an occurrence has not taken place. The territories that are now under Azerbaijani control have always been under Azerbaijani control. Not much has changed on the ground. Yes, there is some movement of posts but not much has changed.

Regarding the Azerbaijani claims that territory has been gained. It is absurd to think that territory has been lost without one gunshot. Is that possible? The situation is the same as it was a few months ago.

About Amulsar gold mine

Q: Dear Prime Minister, in our opinion, their isn’t a more urgent matter in Armenia than the gold mine located in Amulsar. Please find a solution to this problem.

PASHINYAN: My dears, I urge you to give the government time to take care of this issue. I personally don’t understand the purpose of the civil disobedience activities that are currently taking place. I again urge all citizens to stop all civil disobedience activities and give the government an opportunity to solve this issue and find a solution that is based on facts. I hope that you all trust that we, the government, do not have any corrupt interest, we just need to make our solutions based on facts. We do not have business interests and we are not intimidated by any forces. We would like to ask from you time to find out facts and find solutions based on those facts. And we would also like you to not set any preconditions because our facts are going to be objective. We invite the public and especially the civil society organizations to join us in discussing and assessing those facts. Our only interest is to advance the public good. So either help us gather the facts, or do not hinder our fact finding mission.

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Thank you for following this question and answer session. I think that we will continue to engage with one another more frequently through this method. For me this engagement is very important. Your questions and the likes that they receive help me better understand and prioritize the issues that need to be solved.

I want to say again that I love you all. I am proud of all of you for bringing this change to Armenia.