By Gevorg Stamboltsian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on Wednesday the Armenian government will finalize by the end of next month its proposals for the use of additional U.S. government assistance which it will likely receive under Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
Markarian spoke after chairing the first meeting of an ad hoc commission of senior government officials which is tasked with assessing the country’s urgent needs, discussing possible ways of meeting them with the promised extra U.S. aid and submitting a relevant plan to the American side.
Under the terms of the MCA, Armenia and 15 other developing nations selected by the U.S. government last spring must themselves specify how much money they need and how they would use it. Top executives from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) which runs the scheme visited Yerevan late last month for the first discussions on the subject with Armenian officials.
They made it clear that the aid allocation to Armenia is not a forgone conclusion and will depend on the quality of the proposals. According to senior U.S. diplomats, it will also be contingent on the improvement of Yerevan’s “poor” human rights record.
Speaking to journalists, Markarian said that the government would like to primarily spend the MCA funds on the reconstruction of the battered infrastructure of the country’s impoverished rural regions that have hardly benefited from recent years’ economic growth. He said that would mean rebuilding schools, countryside roads and irrigation networks. “All of these programs must be in line with our [12-year] poverty reduction strategy,” he said.
Asked how much the Armenian side expects to get from the MCC, he said: “It is too early to talk about sums [of money]. But according to our preliminary estimates, [the government will ask for] between $500 million and $600 million in the next five years.”
Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian came up last week with an even more ambitious aid target: $700 million, of which $100 million should be made available as early as this year. But he was more cautious and vague in his comments on Wednesday. “Even [the MCC] don’t know what will happen,” he said.
Khachatrian reiterated that the government commission in charge of the MCA is open to proposals from Armenian non-governmental organizations. He complained that it has received only two aid projects so far.
Armenia has already received over $1.5 billion in regular U.S. assistance since independence. It will get at least $78.4 million worth of further assistance in the course of this year.