By Karine Kalantarian
Former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian on Friday renewed his allegations that government figures showing double-digit economic growth in Armenia in recent years are misleading and grossly inflated.
According to official statistics largely endorsed by Western lending institutions, the Armenian economy has expanded at an average of 11 percent in the last four years.
But in an interview with RFE/RL, Bagratian claimed that the real growth was “several times slower.” “A slight analysis shows that the real growth was within the 3-4 percent range,” he said.
“There is both a propaganda effort on the part of the authorities and a professional problem,” he added, challenging the methodology of the government’s macroeconomic data collection.
Pointing to a rising income gap, Bagratian also said that the growth has mainly benefited a small class of Armenia’s wealthiest citizens.
Meeting with university students last week, President Robert Kocharian admitted that even his wife is somewhat skeptical about official macroeconomic figures and chided his ministers for not strongly defending the government’s economic track record. Kocharian insisted that the benefits of the growth are finally trickling down.
Much of Kocharian’s optimism is shared by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that continue to reward the Armenian government with fresh loans. They also say that widespread poverty in Armenia is declining.
However, Bagratian, who headed the government from 1993-1996 and is known as a champion of liberal economics, claimed the opposite. “I must say that analyses conducted by all international finance institutions see a catastrophic decline in the quality of the Armenian economy,” he said.
Bagratian at the same time complained that “the professionalism of employees [of international institutions] dealing with Armenia is increasingly declining because Armenia arouses less and less interest.”
The ex-premier, who is now a top executive at the French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company, launched a blistering attack on the Armenian Central Bank recently, saying that the state has paid dearly for its continuing adherence to the U.S. dollar. Bagratian also challenged government claims that only objective market factors have been responsible for the dramatic appreciation of the Armenian currency, the dram.
The Central Bank denied the charges through the media.