On March 23, 2018 the RA National Assembly fully adopted the draft law on making amendments to the law on the city of Yerevan in the second reading. The draft law was presented by the Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan, and after a few hours the it was adopted. From now on, reporters will not be allowed to enter the Yerevan City Council session hall. Meanwhile, the presenter brought up quite controversial facts in an effort to substantiate the draft law.
Thus, according to the mentioned draft law, the reporters will carry out their professional activities in a separated room in the City Hall, which is equipped with the technology to watch and record public sessions of the Council online. Moreover, the reporters may be allowed to attend the City Council sessions with the permission of Yerevan mayor or session moderator.
Meanwhile, David Harutyunyan and MP Gevorg Kostanyan did not see any dangerous thing in the bill; on the contrary, they drew parallels with the National Assembly sessions and claimed that there was no restriction.
«… Journalists here have the opportunity to record the process of the session, it gives them a much broader opportunity to fulfill their duties; neither we interfere with them nor they do with us. I do not mean that their work hinders the law-making process, instead, there will be live broadcasting in the adjacent hall so that way they have a much wider opportunity to do their job properly”, stated Davit Harutyunyan in the NA. He also noted that what is offered in the package is completely the model of the National Assembly and there is no millimeter deviation from the procedure established in the National Assembly.
Gevorg Kostanyan equated the city council to the parliament. “Yerevan City Council is the legislative body of Yerevan- Yerevan’s parliament, therefore we propose the same model in Yerevan’s parliament,” he said.
Comparison of the Yerevan City Council and National Assembly Session Halls
Yerevan City Council and National Assembly session halls are not exactly the same with their structure and technical equipment.
Closer to the ceiling of the NA session hall, there are two office rooms for journalists – booths, where reporters can see the present parliamentarians, their registration and voting process. In case of failure of the National Assembly’s live stream, due to the equipment placed in the booth it is always possible to hear the session and everything in the session hall is happening in front of the reporters.
Moreover, there is a whole subdivision in the NA Staff, which after the session puts up the vote records of the parliamentarians. This document shows the names of each MP, their voting, whether they were absent or not. In addition, the whole process of the session is taken down in shorthand and then the transcript is published on the NA website.
Being attentive at the time of voting, with help of the screens placed in the hall of the National Assembly it is possible immediately record which MP voted for which bill.
Not being able to enter the Yerevan City Council session hall, the reporters can never accurately record the presence and voting of council members.
It should be noted as a reminder that the electronic voting system has been out of order since the first sitting of the Yerevan City Council in 2017.
As a result, the reporters will be completely deprived of controlling the compliance with some of the requirements of the law. For example, Article 19 (4) of the Law on Local Self-Government in the City of Yerevan stipulates, “The member of the city council shall not take part in decisions of the Community Council, which are beneficial for him, his family members, and close relatives.” Obviously, providing only live streaming it is not possible to control the fulfillment of these duties by the council member.
The difference between Local self-government and National Assembly
In addition, the powers and the jurisdiction of the NA and the local self-governing body (LSG), in this case, the Yerevan City Council, are rather different. Article 179 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia clearly defines: “Local self-governance shall be the right and capacity of local self-government bodies to decide, under their own responsibility, on public issues of community importance — in the interests of residents of the community and in compliance with the Constitution and laws.” In other words, at the meeting of the council the issues of concern to the residents of the community are being resolved.
Article 88 of Chapter 4 of the RA Constitution states that the National Assembly is the representative body of the people. The National Assembly is implementing the legislative power; the National Assembly exercise supervision over the executive power, etc. In other words, the parliament writes a law, approves the state budget, exercises supervision over the government, and does not relate to the direct interests of community residents.
Even Davit Harutyunyan in the distant 2008 emphasized the difference between the LSG and the NA. During the hearings held at the National Assembly on December 10, 2008, when discussing the issue of making amendments to the law on Yerevan, then president of the Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs David Harutyunyan said the following about the difference between the NA and the City Council. “It is irrelevant to draw parallels between the work of the National Assembly and the City Hall because the local self-governance is not the state and does not apply to the model of the state.”