By Atom Markarian
A group of regional directors of the World Bank was in Armenia on Monday, meeting with its leaders and assessing post-Soviet economic reforms implemented with the bank’s large-scale financial assistance.
The top executives arrived in Yerevan the previous night as part of their tour of former Communist states in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. The World Bank spokesman in Armenia, Vigen Sargsian, told RFE/RL that the purpose of the trip is to review the bank’s ongoing lending programs in the country and discuss cooperation plans for the future.
The visiting directors met with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and other Armenian officials. Kocharian, according to his press service, praised the World Bank’s role in his country’s modest economic recovery since the mid-1990s, saying he hopes it will “continue with success.”
The World Bank is Armenia’s largest creditor, having already disbursed a total of $736 million in loans under 32 different programs dealing with fiscal policy, education, social security and infrastructure. World Bank loans have been a key source of funding for Armenian budget deficits for the past several years.
Sargsian said an additional $42 million in low-interest loans will likely be made available by next June. The funds have been included in the Armenian government’s social expenditures projected under its draft budget for 2004.
Their disbursement is to be followed by the adoption of the bank’s new “country assistance strategy” (CAS) for Armenia. The Finance and Economy Ministry in Yerevan expects to secure up to $200 million worth of credit under the four-year plan -- a target which now seems realistic given Armenia’s strong macroeconomic performance and the endorsement of its government’s economic policies by senior World Bank officials.
Donna Dowsett-Coirolo, the bank’s director for the South Caucasus, earlier described as “very good” the government’s 12-year poverty reduction strategy unveiled this summer. She said that the CAS will be tied to the successful implementation of that program which promises thousands of new jobs, improved tax collection and greater public spending.