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Closing Ceremony for the USAID Mission in Romania

Henrietta H. Fore, Acting Director of Foreign Assistance and Acting USAID Administrator
Remarks at USAID/Romania Close-Out Celebration
Bucahrest, Romania
October 9, 2007

Your Excellency Foreign Minister Ciorianu, Ambassador Taubman, Excellencies, Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Sustaining Partners, Ladies and Gentlemen: Good evening. It is both a privilege and a pleasure for me to be here with you to commemorate Romania’s remarkable journey.

Tonight we are looking back, and looking forward. We look back at the past seventeen years of Romania’s extraordinary transformation and the role U.S. assistance has played in that transformation. And we look forward to the dawning of a new U.S.-Romanian partnership that will further the exceptional progress that has been made.

It is truly amazing how far Romania has progressed in what is really a “blink of the eye” in historical terms. From 1989 and the Romanian people’s uprising against their oppressive dictator, to the Romania of today, to the Romania we celebrate tonight: a democratic, economically strong country, firmly part of Europe, a member of NATO, a key U.S. ally. I am simply in awe of what you, the Romanian people, have accomplished in less than two decades.

I am proud to say America has been a constant friend and supporter of Romania’s transformation from the very beginning. 17 years ago, in a time full of hope but also fear and uncertainty about the future, the U.S. Congress passed the Support for East European Democracy Act – the SEED Act. The SEED Act pledged assistance to those who would take “substantive steps toward institutionalizing political democracy and economic pluralism.” This mandate laid the foundation for two decades of consistent, tangible U.S. support for the aspirations of the people of Central and Eastern Europe for peace, freedom and prosperity.

With aid from the American people and the bold vision of our Romanian partners, in both the private and non-governmental sectors, as well as in the government, huge achievements have been made.

During my visits and meetings in Bucharest today, I experienced firsthand the scope of those achievements.

  • 17 years ago, warehoused Romanian children were starving in state orphanages. Today, NGOs are providing services, here in Bucharest and throughout the country to prevent the abandonment of children. Together with the local and national governments, the Romanian Orthodox Church, USAID, NGOs, and involved citizens have helped to decrease the number of children in orphanages from 170,000 in 1990 to 26,000 today. Living conditions have also improved dramatically for those remaining in institutions. When I visited the saint Ecaterina Child Welfare Center today and saw the faces of the children, I understood how far Romania has come.
  • 17 years ago, there were no civic organizations in Romania. Today I spoke with representatives of the non-governmental organization (NGO) community, who described for me, with enthusiasm, their vision to explore new sustainable partnerships with public and private organizations. Their vision is to improve transparency and fairness in the private sector; to hold elected officials to their promises; to improve the lives of people with disabilities; to advance the interests of people from minority and vulnerable populations, and much, much more. I have also been encouraged to invite each of you to take advantage of the possibility to donate up to 2% of your income taxes to NGOs to support these very important activities.
  • 17 years ago, there were no private businesses in Romania. Today I spoke with representatives of the business community who told me about the expansion of the private sector in Romania. Together through associations, business has served as effective voice for reform – so much so that, according to the World Bank’s latest report, Romania now ranks 48th in the world in terms of the ease of “doing business.” Those associations – representing food processing, tourism, agriculture and many other sectors – were cultivated with USAID support. When I heard Romanian business people tell me how the associations have now become an established feature of Romania’s civil society, I understood how far Romania has come.
  • I also heard today how The Romanian American Enterprise Fund, established with a grant from USAID, has helped attract over $200 million in foreign investment to Romania. The Fund has also promoted a sound legal and regulatory environment for home mortgages, leasing and microfinance. The Fund now plans to take the profits from its investments over the years and use them to establish a new foundation that will finance innovative educational programs aimed at fostering further private sector development in Romania.

Tonight while we celebrate Romania’s success and the U.S.-Romanian partnership that helped make it possible, we should also be looking to the future. Because that partnership has evolved, and must continue to evolve.

As the USAID Mission in Romania closes its doors, a new partnership is taking shape—an enduring partnership based on shared values and reliant upon the energy, ideas, and experience of the many vibrant institutions and organizations created by Romanians over the past two decades.

Together, we are taking the first steps to explore the many opportunities that lie ahead. An example of this new partnership is exemplified in the recent signing of a $10 million grant for the German Marshall Fund’s Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, which will be based here in Bucharest. This marks the beginning of a 10-year partnership between the U.S., Romania, the German Marshall Fund, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and USAID, and other donors to strengthen cross-border ties, civic participation, democratic governance, and rule of law in the Black Sea region.

In coming years, I have no doubt that the U.S. and Romania will continue to collaborate in other ways to promote democracy and economic growth in the region and elsewhere around the world.

As Romania assumes its new responsibilities as an EU member and as an emerging donor with its own foreign assistance program, we stand ready to share with you what we have learned from many years of development experience.

Romania’s own transformation from a closed, repressive system to an open society based on political freedom and the rule of law will serve as an invaluable model for others who continue to face grave challenges in their struggle to achieve lasting peace and prosperity. It is with great pleasure that I anticipate working together as donor partners to showcase Romania’s stunning success to the rest of the world, to the benefit of nascent democracies everywhere.

On a personal note, may I say thank you to the extraordinarily talented Romanian staff, professionals who have worked for USAID – some for all 17 years. The total years worked among our Romanian staff tonight in this room – is 403 years. You can see our dedicated colleagues, wearing buttons. Their work is our work, and they have worked with their whole hearts and minds for Romania. On behalf of the United States Agency for International Development, it has been our honor to work with you. Think of ways to carry on your good work in the years to come.

Thank you.

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