By Atom Markarian
The implementation of a $235.6 million aid package for Armenia formally released by the United States this week will not begin in earnest until next year, Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian said on Friday.
Khachatrian explained that the Armenian government and a U.S. government agency handling the Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Account program will need months to complete preparations for its launch. He said the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) will spend only up to $6 million for that purpose this year.
The practical modalities of the five-year project, aimed at upgrading roads and irrigation networks in rural parts of Armenia, will dominate the agenda of MCC chief executive John Danilovich’s visit to Yerevan slated for April 10-15. Danilovich and Khachatrian signed Armenia’s MCA compact in the presence of other senior U.S. and Armenian officials in Washington on Monday.
Alex Rasin, an MCC executive in charge of the program’s implementation, told Armenian reporters this week that the two sides also need to sign six additional agreements regulating the use of U.S. funds. He confirmed that the sum will be made available to Yerevan in several installments over the next five years. “Each disbursement will be based on quarterly analysis of how we move forward both in the study and the construction process,” he said.
The first MCA tranche is thus likely to be released in the run-up to next year’s Armenian parliamentary election. U.S. officials and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in particular have indicated that the Armenian authorities’ failure to ensure the freedom and fairness of the vote could result in the program’s termination.
Khachatrian assured reporters that his government will honor its pledge to prevent a repeat of serious vote irregularities in Armenia. “If our indicators worsen and fail to meet the Millennium Challenge requirements a year later, the program can certainly be suspended,” he said. “I don’t see such a future because our indicators are increasingly improving.”
“We knew what kind of a process we were embarking on and what is required from our republic,” he added.