YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia is still not eligible for renewed large-scale assistance from the United States which is conditional on political and economic reforms, U.S. Ambassador John Heffern said on Friday.
Heffern cited the Armenian government’s stated efforts to combat endemic corruption, saying that they have not been deemed satisfactory by a U.S. government agency managing the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program.
The program is designed to reward developing countries committed to good governance with targeted economic assistance. Armenia qualified for the scheme shortly after its launch in 2006, getting $177 million in MCA funding for the rehabilitation of rural irrigation networks.
The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) also planned to allocate another $60 million for the reconstruction of the country’s rural roads. But the MCC scrapped that allocation shortly after a disputed February 2008 presidential election that was followed by a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
The Armenian government has been trying to secure renewed aid from the MCC since then. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan met with Daniel Yohannes, the corporation’s chief executive, when he visited Washington last December.
“The MCC has about 13 indicators,” Heffern told journalists in Yerevan. “There are two really critical ones, one of which is anti-corruption. For a country to be eligible for an agreement with the MCC, they have to pass those two indicators for sure.”
“As the deputy foreign minister said, Armenia was very close on those two indicators. It came up a little bit short on the anti-corruption indicator. So it’s really important that Armenia focus very much on that area,” the envoy said.
The authorities in Yerevan have repeatedly pledged to tackle bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices in earnest. Prime Minister Sarkisian announced a new anti-corruption drive last November, urging civic and opposition groups to get involved in it. The latter dismissed the offer as unserious, however. They claim that President Serzh Sarkisian is not prepared for a genuine fight against corruption because it would endanger his hold on power.
Armenia occupied a lowly 129th place in Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 183 countries. It ranked 123rd of 178 nations surveyed in 2010.