Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's final speech during the discussion of the draft budget 2024 at the National Assembly
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Honorable President of the National Assembly,
Dear Cabinet members,
We are discussing the draft state budget 2024 of the Republic of Armenia, and I must say right away that, in my opinion, this is a historic budget for historic times. Why is the budget historic? For a very specific reason: the revenue part of the budget more than doubles compared to 2018, increasing by 1 trillion 334 billion AMD, or about 3 billion USD. The expenditure part of the budget also more than doubles.
Health care expenditure, for example, is more than doubling, which means we are doubling access to health care for our citizens. And this is one of our most important commitments and promises. Assuming the leadership of the country in 2018, we put forward a thesis that citizens should not stay at the doors of hospitals, and today citizens do not stay at the doors of hospitals. According to the latest data, people who need state-ordered health plan services receive these services within a month of being placed on the wait list. This does not apply to emergency services that are provided on an as-needed basis. And we see the result of that today. In January-September 2023, the lowest mortality in the last six years and the highest natural increase were recorded in the Republic of Armenia.
With the budget of 2024, defense expenditure is more than doubled compared to 2018, but this is not a preparation for war, but for peace, because the sense of protection of citizens is the most important guarantee of peace and stability. I am sure all our neighboring countries are convinced that we have no intention of attacking anyone. And in that regard, I do not consider the concerns expressed about the reforms and achievements of our armed forces to be sincere for two reasons: firstly, it is not only the right, but also the duty of every sovereign state to reform and strengthen the army, which we are doing, and secondly, in the last 10 years, Azerbaijan's defense expenditure were on average three times more than the same indicator of Armenia and, in fact, continues to be so.
We tripled capital expenditures compared to 2018 to be able to continue building water lines, roads, power lines, kindergartens, schools, and this is the financial and economic expression of the peace agenda. We are more than doubling education expenditure. The comparison is in all cases with 2018, because we are convinced that it is education that will endow us with the knowledge, ability and will to answer all our questions. We have clearly formulated what we want from our educational system, from our school. We want the child to leave school mentally strong, physically strong and psychologically strong. We want very important and very specific values to crystallize in the child's mind and soul, and the highest value should be the state, the Republic of Armenia.
And why are the times historic? Because we are faced with the need to re-evaluate the functionality of our state and statehood, and the result of that functional re-evaluation, in my opinion, should be the following: Armenia is not a foothold or an outpost developed outside its borders aimed at carrying out outside plans, but a means to ensure the safety, well-being, freedom and happiness of its own citizens. The state should be guided exclusively by the logic of achieving these goals.
In this context, I must record that economic development is the state interest of the Republic of Armenia and all policies and concepts should be evaluated according to how much they correspond to the development interests of Armenia. Reforms in the field of education, for example, are within that context. In the last five years, we have achieved 28 percent economic growth in Armenia. This is a huge number that has significantly increased the potential of our economy. But to realize that potential, reforms in general education, vocational education and training, higher education and science are necessary. Here the personnel human resource should be formed, which should realize, that is, use the created economic potential and turn it into continuous economic development.
Honorable President of the National Assembly,
Dear Cabinet members,
The main message of my today’s speech is as follows: the pinnacle of our value system is the Republic of Armenia, the pinnacle of our system of interests is the economic development of Armenia. It is to serve these two pinnacles that the peace agenda is aimed at. In this regard, our political will to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan in the coming months remains unshakable, of course with the understanding that the Republic of Armenia cannot sign this treaty alone, and for this, Azerbaijan's signature is also necessary. And how realistic is the concluding a peace treaty with Azerbaijan before the end of the year or in the coming months? The three key principles of peace, in fact, have been agreed with Azerbaijan, and this agreement took place during our negotiations, in particular, during the tripartite meetings held in Brussels on May 14 and July 15 of this year.
The first principle is as follows: Armenia and Azerbaijan recognize each other's territorial integrity, with the understanding that the territory of Armenia is 29,800 square kilometers, and the territory of Azerbaijan is 86,600 square kilometers. It is for guaranteeing this that the next important principle of the peace treaty with Azerbaijan was recorded. The 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration is the political basis for the delimitation of the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Basically, there is also an understanding that the maps of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union from 1974-1990 should be used for delimitation. I consider it important to emphasize that the following has also been agreed upon: Armenia and Azerbaijan have no territorial claims against each other and undertake not to put forward such claims in the future. The next principle of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the following: regional communications should be reopened on the basis of the countries' sovereignty, jurisdiction, reciprocity, and equality.
You know that the topic of opening regional communications is one of the most discussed and manipulated topics in recent years, within which promises, obligations, even conspiracies have been attributed to Armenia, the government of the Republic of Armenia, and me personally. All our promises and commitments are expressed in the "Crossroads of Peace" project, and we are ready to start the implementation of this project in minutes and expect the support of regional countries and the international community. Now I also want to note that the "Crossroads of Peace" project also reflects the promises given to us and the obligations we have assumed.
Now I want to address a question that clearly arises from what I said. If the principles of peace with Azerbaijan have been agreed upon, then why is there a problem, why don't we move forward, why don't we sign the peace treaty? By and large, the reason is distrust between the parties, because every time we see intentions to abandon the above-mentioned agreements and plan aggressive actions in Azerbaijan’s statements, some actions, and perhaps the same goes for Azerbaijan, which negatively affects the textual work of the peace treaty. Meanwhile, there are several other key issues to be clarified in the near future, one of which is the formulation of the mechanism for overcoming possible misinterpretations regarding the content of the peace agreement.
Unfortunately, it is a reality that every sentence can sometimes be interpreted in different ways, so we need to have a very clear mechanism on how we deal with different interpretations. The other is about the creation of security guarantees so that no escalation is possible after the signing of the peace treaty.
I consider it necessary to emphasize that the government and I personally have the intention to intensify the diplomatic and political work aimed at overcoming these issues, and we will report the progress to the public regularly.
And for budget discussions, it is an old and accepted practice to give the budget a name, and several such names were used during the discussion. For my part, I hope that the 2024 budget will be a peace budget and that 2024 will be our first year of stable and lasting peace.
In the sidelines of the budget discussion, there was a question, including by our opposition partners, whether people are living better or worse in the Republic of Armenia now. I want to say that I think there is always uncertainty in that conversation, because in any country at any time there will be people who live worse and there will be people who live better. To find an objective answer to this question, it is necessary to rely on objective indicators, on macro indicators.
I will give some examples: for example, the gross domestic product per capita has increased by 1,170,000 AMD or 57.9 percent since 2018. The real salary in Armenia increased by 33 percent. Real salary growth is when we subtract inflation and record what's left.
I also want to record that in the context of the issue of good and bad living, we should address another issue, or try to understand the issue under another logic.
And have the opportunities to live well in Armenia increased or decreased? Undoubtedly, they have increased, because for example, during this year, as far as I understand, for the first time in our history, the number of tourists who visited Armenia exceeded 2 million people, and this is according to the data until October.
I want to record that this is an opportunity for our citizens, because tourists naturally bring money with them and spend in our market. This is an opportunity for small businesses, medium businesses, large businesses to live better. In this context, I consider it important to emphasize that, compared to 2018, this year, in 2023, the financing of tourism has increased 20 times, and in 2024 the increase will be 35 times. We don't do this for tourists, although we also do it for tourists. We do this primarily to increase the opportunity for our citizens to live well.
I want to present another number in this context. In 2023, already this year, compared to 2018, the financing for reinforcing and repairing monuments in our country has doubled, and in 2024, it will increase 5.5 times compared to 2018. There is a very important two-sided issue here, and I want to highlight the accusations against us about how we treat our values. We treat our values in this way: we don't stand around the tables and drink their toast, indifferently watching how they are destroyed, the more they are destroyed, the more raising a toast, but we are actually engaged in the preservation and restoration of these monuments.
I want to emphasize that we want to change the decades-old policy here and put a special emphasis on the monuments that symbolize Armenia's statehood, that symbolize Armenia's sovereignty, that symbolize Armenia's development capabilities. I consider this a very important change.
Let's take into account that this will also bring an increase in tourism, but I want to record that in our opinion, a good life is possible only with work. Our policy is to create new opportunities for people to work in Armenia.
I have said many times that since 2018, we have created more than 170,000 jobs in the Republic of Armenia. That's a job growth of more than 30 percent.
I also want to record that compared to 2021, poverty has decreased from 26.5 percent to 24.8 percent. Extreme poverty went down from 1.5 percent to 1.2 percent. But I say again, we do not think that we should distribute the generated billions to the people so that they overcome poverty. No, we have to create an opportunity to work. Everyone should know that the only way to overcome poverty is work, because a person can be fed for one day, fed for two days, fed for three days, fed for a week, fed for a month, fed for a year, fed for five years, but preparing a person that he will not work and the government or society will feed him all his life is the biggest humiliation and insult to a person.
A greater insult to a person cannot be imagined. And this is an expression of our respect for our citizen. Poverty is overcome through work. Today, thousands of people from foreign countries come to work in the Republic of Armenia. Moreover, let me say that we are talking about able-bodied people, because the policy towards people who are not able to work is a completely different issue. I emphasize able-bodied because it has been discussed a lot lately, and I don't want to confuse disability and able-bodied because they are different things. I have repeated many times, and I want to repeat again, that one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century spent most of his life in a wheelchair, unable to speak, unable to move, and created most of his scientific work while sitting in a wheelchair, unable to speak, unable to move. In this sense, the inclusiveness of education is an extremely important direction that we must constantly develop.
Honorable President of the National Assembly,
Dear Cabinet members,
I have to record that the following idea was running through the speeches of a number of our opposition colleagues. "Well, who needs those indicators, numbers, even if we believe them, if we lost Karabakh? Wasn't it better the times when the numbers were not so high, but we had Karabakh, and now we don't have it anymore because of these authorities?"
Although we have talked about this topic dozens of times in recent years, I think that such statements are a good opportunity to revisit the history of the Third Republic, to reevaluate that history. And an honest reassessment of that history will tell us the following: what we wanted regarding Nagorno Karabakh was no longer possible, at least after the December 1996 OSCE Lisbon summit. And those who, after joining the consensus of that summit minus one, where minus one was Armenia, assured us in the closed parts of official meetings and in restaurants that it is possible and will definitely happen, and they constantly encouraged us, they had only one goal in mind. to prevent the accomplishment of state in Armenia.
And their strategic scenario was exactly that, to use the Karabakh issue as a lever to prevent the development of Armenia's statehood, not to allow the resolution of the Karabakh issue under any scenario until it is not possible to resolve the issue of the Republic of Armenia in such a way that de facto and de jure the Republic of Armenia will cease to exist as an independent state.
At least since 1996, the issue of Karabakh no longer existed, instead, the issue of the Republic of Armenia existed, and the events of 1998, 1999, particularly October 27, 2020, 2023 should be considered in this context. Couldn't we have understood all this earlier without going through these disasters and tragedies? We could only in one case, which is changing of mentality, and it was not only difficult, but impossible, because the outdated patriotic model formed in communist times should not allow us to do this.
This is what is happening in Armenia right now: a change in thinking, the outdated or Soviet model of patriotism is being replaced by the state model of patriotism, which I tried to express with several theses voiced in the discussions of the 2024 state budget, in particular, "the motherland is the state, if love your homeland, strengthen your state, the motherland is the state, if you love your motherland, be law-abiding, the motherland is the state, if you love your motherland, pay your taxes."
And I want once again, and as MP Arsenyan did from this podium, to thank all the citizens and subjects who create added value through creative work in the Republic of Armenia, and all law-abiding tax payers. you are the support and stronghold of the state, your actions are the essence of the new model of patriotism.
In terms of budget collections and 28 percent economic growth, I also want to address the following: we are criticized a lot for not returning the looted funds from the country with proper consistency. This criticism is understandable, but on the other hand, I must note that the looted funds, fortunately or unfortunately, are not arranged on the shelves of the houses of famous looters, so that we can go in, take them, and leave. These funds are carefully concealed, hidden in different places, often outside of Armenia. And besides, the looters are not surrendering, but on the contrary, they resist in all possible ways, including political ways, hiding behind Karabakh, textbooks, security threats and all sorts of issues, including attempts to provoke internal political instability, spending millions on legal services, propaganda against the government and officials.
On the other hand, the return of the looted funds cannot be at the expense of the state, legal system, legality and this has always been our position. This is the reason why we have created legal mechanisms, the mechanism of confiscation of illegal property, which has just started working and we already have noisy returns of funds. "Golden Palaces" hotel, which took place earlier, "AOKS" building, thousands of hectares of land on Isakov avenue, thousands of hectares of land in Tsaghkadzor.
At the moment, about 1,000 immovable properties, 200 movable properties, shares in 270 organizations, which are under prohibition and cannot be alienated, are undergoing illegal property confiscation proceedings. This series will continue and our political will in this regard has never wavered for a second, with the realization that we understand that this is only a small part.
I want to address the following, look, we say that we are increasing the revenue part of the state budget by 3 billion USD and by a billion dollars or more compared to 2022-2023. Did that money fall from the air? At least some of it is the money that was not paid as taxes before, remained in the shelves, or entered the pockets of various officials. And therefore, understanding and accepting the criticism, I want to record once again that our political will has not wavered for a second and the launched process will certainly lead to concrete results.
In this context, I also want to refer to what MP Aleksanyan spoke about, the activation of corruption phenomena in Armenia. We, the representatives of the government, sometimes find ourselves in the following situation. people approach us officially, asking to solve this or that issue. We take the applications, sign them, circulate through the cabinets, discuss and finally find out that we cannot solve the issue because there is no legal solution to the issue. Then we find out by chance that the applicant, who applied to us and was rejected, has already solved his problem because, let's say, he did not apply to the Prime Minister, but to a much lower official or "knowledgeable" person, and he acted with completely different methods.
Dear colleagues, let's admit that this is a shame and we must deal with this issue seriously. Moreover, dealing can be in different forms, in one case to tighten the fight against corruption, in the other case to simplify the laws so that people, including the government, do not fall into bureaucratic cobwebs, so that the laws hindering the development of the economy are abolished. It seems to people that they are the only ones who fall into that bureaucratic cobwebs, if I tell you how many times a day I fall into such a cobweb, you probably won't believe it.
Here is the complexity, if the government only dealt with one issue, that is, if it had one issue, that issue would surely be resolved rather quickly. But the government has to deal with a thousand issues simultaneously, the management of which cannot be delayed for a single minute, and these issues, or rather their solutions, are sometimes mutually exclusive, sometimes contradictory. Moreover, all these issues are important, interrelated, and sometimes it is difficult to say which one is the priority. Also, in order to simplify this situation, I am drawing your attention, dear Parliament, dear Government, dear people, on two main priorities: strengthening of statehood and development of the economy. These two issues should be the guideline of all our actions.
Glory to the martyrs and long live the Republic of Armenia. Thank you.