Construction of Yerevan city centre is underway.
By Harry Tamrazian and Armen Zakarian in Yerevan
The head of presidential administration in Armenia, Artashes Tumanian
revealed on Tuesday the details of a $150 million project, funded by US billionaire Kirk Kirkorian's Lincy foundation. The project envisages the reconstruction of Armenia's roads and the rebuilding of the two main regions devastated by the 1988 earthquake. The Lincy construction project has three major components; the major part of the capital, almost $43 million will be spent on construction of 4000 apartments in the earthquake zone of Gyumri and Lori, $71,5 million on construction of 450 km of roads, and $17,5 on reconstruction of Armenian cultural centers.
The powerful head of the presidential administration, who neither denied nor confirmed the report that he will soon replace Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, also coordinates the work of a joint commission comprising the Lincy Foundation and the Armenian government. In Tuesday's press conference, which was the first major presentation of the Diaspora funded construction project, Tumanian promised to keep the Armenian media informed on the progress of the construction work. He accepted criticism voiced by Armenian media
that the joint commission was initially reluctant to share information with the public, adding that the American side was unwilling in the past to discuss the details of the construction
Commenting on corruption charges made by some Armenian newspapers, Tumanian said that the construction project is under the strict supervision of the U.S. representatives of the Lincy foundation and the chances of corruption and financial abuse and favoritism in the tender procedures are almost zero. The Lincy foundation has a right
to make unexpected inspections at the construction sites and as a result of several inspections the construction of some roads were
completely halted and resumed later.
Artashes Tumanian also told reporters that the Project has to be completed in November 2003. The Lincy project was a major financial infusion into the Armenian economy. The funds allocated for the construction of Armenia's roads and the earthquake zone is much bigger than the whole capital expenditures financed by Armenia's budget. In a country where, according to independent estimates, unemployment is as high as 30 percent, the addition of some 11 thousand jobs during two years would provide great relief for the Armenian workforce. This year alone 5000 workers have already been
hired for housing construction in Gumri and Lori regions. The
salaries of qualified workers is as high as 230 thousand Dram a month. An average monthly salary is 100 thousand Drams. Almost 180 Armenian companies made a successful bid in tenders for various parts of the project, including 4 major construction companies from Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Artashes Tumanian there is even a shortage of qualified workers in some areas.
The head of the Presidential administration also told reporters that the Armenian side has no authority to redirect the funds to other areas of need, or to amend the projects and spent money on other sectors of the economy and social infrastructure, as was suggested by critics of the project.
The World Bank's chief economic expert on Armenia, Lev Freinkman has criticised the Diaspora donors, for lack of understanding of Armenia's developing priorities saying, that investments from the Diaspora should have been channelled into projects that would boost new export-oriented businesses. "This is a strictly humanitarian project and we can't change it", Artashes Tumanian said.