Armenia’s total public debt has continued to grow this year and now stands at $5.25 billion, a figure equivalent to around half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2015, government figures show.
According to the Finance Ministry, it has risen by $181 million since the beginning of this year mainly because of new loans obtained by the Armenian government from international lending institutions. The government and the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) borrowed more than $400 million from external sources last year.
Foreign loans account for the bulk of the national debt burden. The World Bank has been Armenia’s leading lender since the early 1990s, having extended at least $2.2 billion in low-interest loans mostly repayable in 25-30 years.
The Armenian foreign debt began rising rapidly, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of GDP, after a global financial crisis plunged the country into a deep recession in 2009. President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration resorted to large-scale external borrowing to mitigate consequences of the crisis. Renewed economic growth in the country has remained sluggish since 2010.
Opposition politicians and other critics of the government regularly express concern at the increased debt, saying that Armenia may have trouble servicing it in the future. They also accuse the authorities of wasting or misusing the more than $3 billion borrowed since 2009.
“Despite using huge financial resources [from abroad] and increasing our public debt, we have failed to overcome the economic crisis,” Vahagn Khachatrian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), said on Monday. He argued that in U.S. dollar terms Armenia’s GDP has is still below the pre-crisis levels.
Government officials have repeatedly dismissed opposition concerns. They insist that the authorities have put the foreign loans to good use and that the national debt burden remains manageable.