Tuesday, 19 January 2021

E Editorial

Property Tax Spike Without Social Guarantees

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While the civilized world is focusing more and more on citizen-based legislative solutions, where man, his dignity and natural rights are central, the current government is continuing its departure from its own revolutionary values and finding new ways to break its constituents, both socially and morally.

We speak of several laws and regulations adopted of late which lack an important component:  social guarantees.  The most recent example of this is the controversial property tax reform adopted by parliament on June 25.  Upon the president's signature, the law will compel Armenian citizens, beginning in 2021, to pay three to five times more in immovable property taxes based, not on cadaster rates, but on approximated market value.

It would seem that the state would want to undertake measures to diminish the tax burden upon its "proud" citizen.  But the only thing the government is planning to do is to implement the new system incrementally over several years.  This is not a softening of the situation.  Who is to say that in four to six years, when the new tax must be paid in full, that citizen will be able to pay it?  Has the government given due consideration to this, or is its only care to fill its coffers?  The concern and disappointment of average folks are understandable.

The first public campaign against the tax spike was initiated on June 27 by cultural figure and medical school trustee Vahan Artsruni and other Yerevan natives via a social media flashmob entitled "I am a native, and this is my city."  It was soon joined by intellectuals, public figures, and average citizens.  They expressed their conviction that the new law would lead to their dispossession and the expropriation of their inherited property in the center of town, as the values of houses and apartments, and hence taxes, are highest there.  The suggestion by ruling MPs that people should sell their ancestral homes and move to the outskirts has been considered hypocritical, disrespectful, and populistic.

The fixation on filling the state treasury via a variety of taxes and dues is not a new phenomenon.  Nor had that temptation circumvented the former authorities, but either the fear of public agitation or a sense of measure had not allowed them to go this far.  The current authorities, apparently still relying on their once very high level of their legitimacy, are more confident in passing controversial laws and "tax-choking" the people, as evidenced by the exacting of a variety of pandemic-related fines.  On the other hand, some would posit that the administration's "assertiveness" is directly related to the prolongation of the state of emergency, which permits it to rule out mass protests and to silence objecting voices.

There already is talk from ruling circles that the government will extend the state of emergency until year's end.  The authorities, it would appear, feel at ease in such conditions, and without headache will continue to enact laws and enforce decisions to their heart's content.

By extending the state of emergency, the administration in large part is prolonging its rule.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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Yerevan, Armenia


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