YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The prices of gasoline and diesel fuel in Armenia have risen further despite President Serzh Sarkisian’s calls for possible “drastic measures” against a handful of companies importing fuel.
One liter of gasoline cost at least 440 drams (90 U.S. cents) at filling stations across Yerevan on Monday, up by 10 drams from the end of last week. The price stood at 390 drams per liter in early December. Fuel companies have raised it for three times since then.
The most significant price rise followed the entry into force on January 1 of new legislation mandating higher excise duties on fuel, alcohol and tobacco. The prices of pressurized natural gas, used by most vehicles in the country, as well as some essential foodstuffs have also gone up in recent months, prompting strong criticism of the Armenian government from opposition politicians and many ordinary citizens.
Sarkisian expressed concern over the price hikes at an emergency meeting with senior government and Central Bank officials held on January 10. He said the government should look into the situation in the domestic fuel market and decide whether it warrants “drastic measures” by the State Commission on the Protection of Economic Competition (SCPEC).
The bulk of fuel is currently imported to Armenia by two companies, Flash and CPS. At least one of them is owned by individuals close to the ruling establishment. Both companies declined to comment on the latest price rises.
An SCPEC official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the anti-trust body will again “monitor” the fuel market to decide whether the importers have abused their dominant positions in the lucrative business.
Echoing statements by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, a leading member of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), Vahram Baghdasarian, insisted on Monday fuel prices in Armenia are still lower than in neighboring Georgia. “The current petrol price is congruent with the international market,” he claimed.
A senior member of the opposition Yelk alliance, meanwhile, decried the latest price hikes. “What excuses will they come up with now?” Gevorg Gorgisian said of the authorities.
Opposition politicians have long held the authorities and President Sarkisian in particular responsible for the existence of de facto fuel monopolies. Government officials have denied, however, that any sector of the Armenian economy is monopolized.