By Emil Danielyan and Shakeh Avoyan
The release of additional U.S. economic assistance to Armenia under President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account program is still not a forgone conclusion and would take more time than Yerevan initially expected, a U.S. official said on Friday.
“At this stage the funding that we hope to be able to provide to Armenia is not guaranteed,” said Alex Rassin, a senior representative of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency managing the program. “But we hope that by working together we will be able to develop a proposal that … moves us closer to being able to provide the assistance.
“The process of working together with the government can often times be complicated because we are not telling the government what to do. We are trying to work together, to come up with the ideal project.”
Rassin was speaking at the end of a visit to Yerevan during which an MCC delegation led by him met senior officials and representatives of local non-governmental organizations. They discussed the Armenian government’s bid to receive $175 million under the U.S. scheme designed to promote economic and political reforms around the world. The government’s proposal was submitted to the MCC headquarters near Washington in late March.
“We thought that we thereby finished our work,” Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian admitted bluntly. “But as it turned out, we are only beginning it.”
Rassin indicated that Yerevan should further clarify how it wants to use the requested assistance by setting up an ad hoc group that will work with MCC officials. “We want to work with the government to enhance and perfect the proposal that has been made,” he told a joint news conference and Armenian Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian.
“We are very pleased that the minister of finance has promised us that very shortly we will be receiving the names of the group that will be leading the effort on the side of the Armenian government,” he added. “As soon as we understand who we will be working with on a daily basis we will be able to come back and bring our experts to help with the proposal process.”
The government would like to spend most of the requested aid, $118 million, on rebuilding Armenia’s Soviet-era irrigation networks. It would also use $57 of the sum to rebuild battered roads in rural regions of the country. Officials say the projects would reduce rural poverty within four years by boosting agricultural output and facilitating farmers’ access to market places.
Representatives of some local NGOs warned the MCC officials on Thursday that infrastructure projects in Armenia are fraught with serious corruption risks. They said effective mechanisms should be put in place to prevent a possible misuse and embezzlement of the U.S. money.
Rassin said on Friday that the assessment of the Armenian aid application will take months, if not longer. “There can be delays and unpredictable changes in the effort to develop the proposal,” he said.
The Millennium Challenge Account was unveiled by the Bush administration last year. Armenia is among 17 developing nations eligible for the program’s first $1 billion aid allocation. They were chosen on the basis of 16 indicators of political and economic reforms.
Armenia has already been a leading per-capita recipient of U.S. assistance which has totaled more than $1.5 billion since 1992.
(Photolur photo: Rassin, left, and Khachatrian speaking at the news conference.)