YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–The 8th session of US-Armenia Task Force continued on Tuesday with detailed discussions on Armenia’s responsibilities for participation in the US-funded Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
Ambassador Carlos Pascual–a senior State Department official coordinating US aid to Europe and the former Soviet Union–reviewed criterion for the selection of countries eligible.
Armenia is among 16 countries of Africa–Asia–Latin America and the former Soviet Union selected for the MCA earlier this month on the basis of 16 indicators of political and economic reforms. Six of those indicators–including protection of civil rights and freedom of expression–deal with what is defined as one of the three main objectives of the scheme: promotion of a "just government rule."
Pascual said that by qualifying–countries are not guaranteed funding–and that allocation of funds will be based on the quality of program proposals–and on a compulsory basis. Their financing will depend on the economy’s fair management–addressing investment in social issues–as well as the quality of programs presented.
"As you know–there have been issues here in Armenia that have raised questions about political and civil liberties in the past few months," Pascual told a news conference in Yerevan. "The expectation–in order to be able to move forward with the program–is that there would be progress on these issues and not movement backwards."
Pascual–who co-chaired a two-day session of the US-Armenian intergovernmental "task force" with Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian–said that Yerevan would further increase its chances of securing MCA funding by combating endemic corruption in earnest. "We had some very frank discussions about struggle to fight corruption in Armenia and the importance of translating the [government’s] anti-corruption strategy into specific steps," he said–calling for "concrete examples that can show the population the seriousness of the will to fight corruption."
Khachatrian agreed–saying: "We must do a lot of work to get that assistance." He confirmed that the Armenian government has "in effect" already drawn up a number of strategic Poverty Reduction programs to submit to the Millennium Challenge Corporation–a US government agency in charge of the MCA’s implementation. He said those programs will be discussed in detail with a team of other US officials who are due to visit Yerevan later this month. The government will also initiate public debate on its proposals–Khachatrian added.
The task force also discussed the ongoing regular US aid to Armenia–which has exceeded $1.5 billion since 1992 and–according to Pascual–will total $94 million this year. More than half of the 2004 funds are to be spent on job creation–poverty reduction–and social services–while $15 million is earmarked for "security and law enforcement," officials said.