By Atom Markarian
A senior official from the World Bank praised on Wednesday Armenia's
macroeconomic performance in 2003, but cautioned that its government
continues to face a "serious challenge" of tackling widespread poverty.
"The economic performance of Armenia last year was very good indeed," Roger
Robinson, the bank's resident representative in Yerevan, told a news
conference. "But it doesn't mean, of course, that poverty has been
eliminated in Armenia. That is still a serious challenge, and certainly the
objective for the future is to eliminate this poverty."
The Armenian economy, according to government projections, was on course to
grow last year at a record-high rate of 15 percent on the back of a
construction upswing fueled by multimillion-dollar cash injections from the
Lincy Foundation of U.S.-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. President
Robert Kocharian said late last month that the GDP increase would have been
9 percent without Lincy's construction projects.
But with at least half of the country's population living below the
official poverty line and unemployment remaining very high, benefits of the
growth were still not felt by many Armenians. There were also no visible
signs of increased job creation.
"But given the growth performance and other indicators I am optimistic that
we can and will continue to make inroads to the extent of poverty in
Armenia," Robinson said, pointing in particular to a 12-year poverty
reduction plan adopted by the government in August.
The plan of socioeconomic actions, endorsed by both the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund, seeks to bring the poverty rate down to 19
percent by 2015. Coupled with the robust growth, it will serve as the main
guideline for the World Bank's new four-year "country assistance strategy"
(CAS) for Armenia which is due to be approved in March.
Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian expressed hope earlier that
Armenia will receive up to $200 million in additional low-interest loans
from the World Bank under the new CAS. Bank sources, however, suggested
that Yerevan will likely secure $150 million at most given its improving
Robinson revealed that the Washington-based lending institution has already
decided to disburse $75 million in fresh loans in the next six months for
infrastructure projects covering education, health care, public utilities
and the reform of civil service and the pension system. The total amount of
loans and grants provided to Armenia by the World Bank over the last decade
is close to $740 million.