By Atom Markarian
A senior World Bank official who has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Armenia for the past six years singled out on Saturday lending programs on agriculture and social infrastructure as the most successful.
Judy O’Connor, the bank’s outgoing director for the South Caucasus, said she considers the creation in the late 1990s of the Armenian Social Investment Fund to be her main accomplishment for Armenia.
The fund has spent more than $50 million on various infrastructure projects across the country. The bulk of its funding has come from the World Bank in the form of long-term low-interest loans. O’Connor said the scheme has had a tangible impact on the reduction of widespread poverty in Armenia.
The official at the same time revealed that the lack of reforms in health care and other public services has been, by contrast, her greatest disappointment. “I think that we and probably the government together have made mistakes and I think that more work is needed to analyze why,” she said.
O’Connor made the comments at a farewell news conference in Yerevan during which she also announced the impending replacement of the World Bank’s resident representative to Armenia, Owaise Saadat. Saadat has held the post for more than three years, dealing with four successive governments in Yerevan.
The World Bank has provided about $600 million worth of loans to Armenia over the past decade, becoming the country’s single largest creditor and main economic policy adviser. Approximately half of the funds have been “structural adjustment credits” that have covered a considerable part of the Armenian governments’ budget deficits.