- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 14, 2003 

Decision 2003: An improved economy still has a long way to go

Businessman Vardges Amirjanyan wants the next President to give him a job.

"Let them create working places, so that people don't leave their family and children and go to seek luck in strange lands," says Amirjanyan, 35, who had gone to Moscow to find work. "I am choking with nostalgia, but I have no other way out."

According to the employment service agency of the Ministry of Social Security, last year some 154,071 people applied for finding work, from which 8,473 got jobs.

The Ministry claims that the unemployment rate for last year was nine percent -- a figure that may at best represent a third of the real number.

"It became clear that up to now the information has not been of an appropriate standard," says Anush Harutyunyan, press secretary of the Ministry's employment service. "Many people do not know that we have regional centers."

But the agency assures that whoever applies will get either unemployment benefit (as for the beginning of this year 6,010 people get unemployment benefit), or other aid (7,371 people get other aid), or take part in 'Allowance for work' or 'Provisions for work' projects.

The agency's 31 of 51 regional centers have no computers and only this month will be able to get equipped, create a general information base and act more effectively.

"The State register informs us about newly registered enterprises, but employers themselves must present the number of vacant working places," Harutyunyan says. "I can't force them."

She says that training will soon be organized for 2,000 unemployed people, whereas last year only 184 unemployed were trained. This year the agency plans not only to compete, but also to cooperate with employment non-governmental organizations (only in Yerevan there are 21 such organizations).

But the agencies can only place workers, they cannot create jobs.

Hayrapet Setoyan, head of Ashtarak's regional employment center, says given the chance to advise the next President: "I would demand that clothing and knitting industry, institutions with scientific potential be restored at least with 50 percent of the former capacity.

"However, today our government is not able to create enough working places by its own strength. In order to solve that problem we need sound investments from outside. Today pre-conditions for that have already been created."

According to the 2003 Index of Economic Freedom, a report published by the Heritage Foundation, Armenia has the highest level of economic freedom among Commonwealth of Independent States.

In the report the foundation studied participation of 161 countries' governments in the economy, their trade and financial policies, present tax burden, banking systems, flow of capital, foreign investments, ownership rights, salary and pricing policies, as well as corruption and 'black market'. During study of these factors it appeared that Armenia ranks as 44th in the world and is among 'mostly free' countries. Besides, Armenia and Lithuania rank as second for being countries that since 1995 (the year of the 'classification' creation) till now has had the greatest progress.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the World Bank's activities in Armenia. According to Vigen Sargsyan, head of the Foreign Affairs department of the World Bank, 30 loan projects were approved over the past decade, for a total of $697.2 million.

"As mission of the World Bank is reduction of poverty, projects are mainly of a social character. At this point it is difficult for me to mention a project that has directly or indirectly impacted the social field," says Sargsyan. The bank has financed about 100 small and medium-size industrial enterprises, and has directly helped in creating of 2,800 jobs. Investments of the bank in agriculture ensure work for 7,500 families and 715 kilometers of Armenia's highways were reconstructed thanks to projects funded by the World Bank.

"Within the framework of Lincy Foundation we implement projects on construction, reconstruction of the roads of general use, as well as reconstruction of Yerevan's streets," says Eduard Bezoyan, head of the road-building projects implementation office. He says that thanks to those grants about 650 to 700 jobs were created in Yerevan, and 6,000 to 6,500 in regions.

Lincy Foundation also provided Armenia with $43.8 million grant aimed at restoration of the disaster zone, and with $17.5 million grant aimed at reconstruction of cultural centers, as well as with a loan of $20 million for development of small and medium-size businesses. The latter amount includes loans to about 50 projects, as a result of which 3,000 jobs were created.

Still, surveys by international organizations show that more than half of the population lives below the poverty level.

According to the World Bank, an impressive growth was registered in Armenia, but aspects of fair distribution and stability lag.

And in the International Monetary Fund's report of October 9, 2002 devoted to Armenia it is said: "Corruption needs to be reduced to insure that the fruits of rapid growth are distributed more evenly among the population."

It is necessary to reduce the level of corruption to ensure more equal distribution of products of the rapid economic growth among the population."

The hopes of those represented in the reports are simple, such as Marine, a 20-year old pharmacy clerk who says: "When will people's salaries be enough to satisfy at least minimal needs?"


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  Photo of the week
  Photo of the week: Tamper resistant?
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Tamper resistant?

Journalists flocked to Zvartnots Airport Tuesday to greet the arrival of plastic boxes, heralded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as Armenia's first step toward "transparent" elections. The 2,000 boxes - at a cost of about $4 each - were financed by the US, Swiss, German and Norwegian governments. Newspaperman Tigran Liloyan gave one ballot bucket a test run.



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