Controversial ‘Bonuses’ Doled Out Among Pashinyan’s Provincial Governors

Pictured left to right: Governors Garik Sargsyan (Ararat), Hambardzum Matevosyan (Armavir) and Hunan Poghosyan (Syunik)

The governors of at least three provinces (marzes), including Ararat, Armavir and Syunik, have caused controversy after an investigative report by Hetq.am revealed they had paid themselves end-of-year bonuses equivalent to more than a month’s salary. The governors reportedly paid bonuses to some of their staff members as well.

According to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, provincial governors (Marzpets) generally receive around 660,000 AMD (1,400 USD) per month. The average monthly wage in Armenia is about $400 per month.

The governors—Garik Sargsyan of Ararat, Hambardzum Matevosyan of Armavir and Hunan Poghosyan of Syunik—have been appointed by Pashinyan and have yet to serve a full year. The governor of Ararat Marz in particular has become an object of media scrutiny. The 31 year-old garnered attention back in 2016 when he became one of the first members of the Civil Contract party to hold elected office as mayor of the Nor Kyank village in Ararat. Back then, Sargsyan made headlines by selling his official car and riding a bike to work in order to save money.

Though there is no legal provision against governors receiving bonuses, this revelation still caused a minor controversy in the National Assembly. The image of governors helping themselves to budgetary funds may have brought back memories of the Republican Party’s inappropriate and infamous spending scandals—a comparison which Civil Contract wishes to avoid at all cost.

Suren Papikian, the newly-appointed Minister responsible for overseeing provincial administrations, appeared to defend the governors’ self-distributed bonuses to the press. He argued that extra incentives were useful because they help reward competent civil servants in local government, especially since state employees in Armenia are notoriously underpaid. Many also believe this type of extra income from legal sources can stave off the temptation of corruption or employment opportunities from the private sector.

Regardless, critics from the opposition benches called these actions “morally wrong,” arguing that lower-level civil servants should have been prioritized when bonuses were awarded. Governing lawmakers agreed that the amount of the payoffs may have been ‘too much’ and promised to look into the mechanisms with which bonuses are allocated. Others raised questions about the low compensation received by civil servants.

This latest controversy follows on the heels of an earlier scandal at the Yerevan municipality. Elders from the Bright Armenia faction have threatened to sue the newly-elected mayor, Hayk Marutyan over his refusal to divulge the names of municipal employees who received 1.2 billion AMD ($2.5 million) in year-end bonuses. The mayor claims he did not personally receive a bonus.

In an interview with Azatutyun radio, Governor Sargsyan apologized for the controversy, claiming that his actions were not illegal. He announced that he, as well as the rest of his staff, would donate a portion of their bonuses to underprivileged families in the province.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who is currently attending the Davos Forum in Switzerland, defended the governors on Facebook. He explained that he had a lot of trouble finding competent and experienced candidates to accept the governor positions specifically because of the low salary; he said the bonuses act as an extra incentive. “Stretched out over a year, the bonus comes to less than $103 dollars a month—a modest sum,” he argued. The Prime Minister added that the practice has been long established.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.
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10 Comments

  1. Much ado about nothing.
    It is a minor issue and controversy.
    Teething pains for the newly elected inexperienced officials. They will learn.
    Vart

  2. Raffi, You have a typo in your article–should be millions in dollars, not 2.5 billion in the parenthesis

    Hayk Marutyan over his refusal to divulge the names of municipal employees who received 1.2 billion AMD ($2.5 billion) in year end bonuses.

  3. Vart,” Noooooo big deal, it’s a minor issue”. Suuuuure, it is a minor issue maaaan, unless of course these incompetent thugs were selected by Kocharyan or Sargsyan, THENNNNN, we have a major problem. It is a CRIME and they should be hauled off to slammer PRONTO without a trial.

  4. Considering that provincial governors generally receive around $1,400 USD monthly, but the average monthly wage in Armenia is about $400 —does not appear above board when you add the end -of -year bonuses to the governors’ salary.

    Nikol Pashinyan’s remark that it is a “modest sum,” and a long established practice, sounds contrary to his Velvet Revolution promises about financial reform, etc.

  5. Beginning to sound like business as usual in Armenian government circles. Where is the fresh air and daylight of the “Velvet Revolution?”

  6. dear Vart
    are you blind?
    Diasporans whatever your affiliations…are you blind?
    these caucasian thugs never learn….stop helping them and help the diaspora of the middle east…STOP helping the armenian pigs in armenia.
    please stop!!!!!

  7. Shahe,
    If? You are true Armenian I suggest you retract your derogatory comment directed to our fellow Armenians in Armenia and apologize. They don’t deserve such vile statement. They were unfortunate to live under the old Soviet rule for seven decades,which molded them into what they are today. Only time will shape their attitude with Diasporans help. Calling them Armenian pigs is uncalled. You’ve gone too far.

  8. Defending governors by saying it’s a “long established practice” is actually very disappointing. Isn’t it what we should try to change? the terrible “long established practices”. It is also long established practice to accept bribes , should they continue that practice as well?

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