Armenia completed last month a $177 million rehabilitation of its rural irrigation networks which was financed by a U.S. government agency managing the program designed to reward good governance and reforms around the world.
The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initially allocated a total of $236 million for a rural development plan submitted by Yerevan in 2006. But it cut in 2008 a $60 million segment of the aid package that was due to finance rural road construction. The decision was taken shortly after a disputed presidential election held in February 2008 and the ensuing government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
“On behalf of the government of the Republic of Armenia I want to thank our U.S. partners for this assistance,” Sarkisian told Patrick Fine, the MCC’s visiting vice-president.
“We highly assess it and are fully determined to continue the cooperation. We will do everything to ensure that Armenia’s standards correspond to the MCC’s standards,” he said.
Sarkisian singled out his government’s stated efforts to reduce the scale of corruption in the country. He pointed to the entry into force next January of a new law that obligates 500 high-ranking state officials to disclose, in detail, their and their relatives’ assets on a regular basis.
The law also mandates the creation of an “ethics commission” tasked with assessing the credibility of those asset declarations.
Sarkisian was not quoted by his press office as mentioning in that context Armenia’s next parliamentary elections due in May 2012. Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said earlier this year that their proper conduct is “important” for renewed assistance from the MCC.
The standards cited by the Armenian premier are meant to gauge developing countries’ eligibility for MCA funding. They evaluate the extent of good governance, government corruption and economic freedoms.
The MCC is expected to release its fresh indicators for Armenia later this year. U.S. officials say they will show whether Yerevan can count on more aid in 2012.
Fine held talks with Sarkisian at the end of a three-day visit to Armenia. The two men inaugurated on Monday a new water pumping station in the southern Ararat region which was constructed as part of the MCC-funded project.
The facility is designed to irrigate 6,100 hectares of agricultural land used by 10,000 families in 23 rural communities.
Sixteen other pumping stations have been built or rehabilitated elsewhere in Armenia. The MCA funds have also been spent on the reconstruction of six major canals, the water drainage system of Ararat and Armavir provinces as well as other agricultural facilities.
Fine described the project’s implementation as “outstanding.” “We are very pleased with the progress that we see,” he told journalists on Monday.