“As of August 31, about $146 million was spent on our program. Another $30 million is due to be spent before the end of the program,” said Ara Hovsepian, head of an Armenian state agency coordinating and overseeing the massive project.
Hovsepian told journalists that the U.S. government funds have been used for rebuilding 6 major canals, 17 water pumping stations, the water drainage system of the fruit-growing Ararat Valley as well as other agricultural facilities across the country. The project’s implementation will be complete by the end of this month, he said.
The U.S. government declared Armenia eligible for the scheme designed to reward good governance and reforms around the world in 2006. It initially allocated about $236 million to finance a rural development plan submitted by Yerevan.
In June 2008, Washington scrapped a $60 million segment of the aid package involving the reconstruction of hundreds of kilometers of rural roads. The decision was widely attributed to a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 and a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition that followed it.
The physical volume of work envisaged by the irrigation project has also been curtailed. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency managing the scheme, has attributed that to “escalating global construction costs and currency fluctuations.”
Armenia -- Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (L) and U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (C) meet with beneficiaries of U.S. assistance provided under the Millennium Challenge Account program, 15Apr2011.
“Seven water reservoirs planned by the program have not come into existence and only 17 of 64 pump stations have been renovated,” complained Levon Barseghian, a civic activist from Gyumri and former member of a supervisory board of non-governmental organizations tasked with monitoring the program’s implementation.
Barseghian’s Asparez Journalists’ Club and several other NGOs quit the board in 2008, saying that it is dominated by government loyalists who are not interested in ensuring the transparency of the MCC-funded construction work.
“I rate the program’s implementation with 2-3 points on a 10-point scale because the program’s key targets have barely been met by half,” Barseghian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
One of those targets was a 6 percent reduction in rural poverty which remains well above the nationwide average.
U.S. officials made it clear earlier this year that Armenia is currently not eligible for additional MCA funding because of its government’s poor human rights and governance records.