Administrator Samantha Power at a Press Availability with Moldovan Media

Speeches Shim

Friday, November 19, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: First of all, good evening, and thank you for your patience. It is wonderful to be here in Moldova. Some of you I'm seeing for the second time today, some of you for the first. And I just wanted to underscore why I've come as a member of President Biden's National Security Council, as the Administrator of USAID, as the Vice Chair of the Development Finance Corporation, as an American citizen, I have come to Moldova because what is happening here is of great interest around the world.

The political reform and economic reform agenda, the ambition of that agenda, the mandate that the people have given the government to tackle corruption and to strengthen the rule of law, that would be important at any time in history, but it is especially important now, at a time where the rule of law is being challenged in many, many quarters. So what the Moldovan people are attempting here and are embarked upon is actually quite unusual globally. The trends have cut in the opposite direction. There has been backsliding as it relates to the rule of law and democratic institutions in many, many parts of the world, including in my part of the world. And so, when we see an attempt like this one, supported, ushered in by civil society, strengthened by the scrutiny of independent media, including some of you gathered here, we want to make sure as the Biden Administration that we show up, and that we put our heads together and try to think through what kinds of catalytic support can be offered in what sectors to do our small part in the spirit of partnership to support these reform efforts.

So that is why I'm here, and I've had a wonderful couple of days meeting with civil society, meeting with independent media, learning a little bit about the history, also of the media sector, taking a tour of the downtown and learning more, or at least, understanding more by being able to visualize the passing of empires and the passing of different historical forces and how those shape modern Moldova. I was very excited to be part of this launch here and had very productive, granular discussions with both The President and The Prime Minister. So it has been a rich couple days in Moldova, but only just the beginning, certainly, of my personal relationship to this country and my effort to do what I can from my vantage point, again, to support the aggressive and ambitious reform efforts being undertaken here.

So, with that, I'm eager for your questions.

QUESTION: [translation] From Moldova One, throughout the years we followed many projects implemented here in Moldova financed by USAID, and now it has launched a program in the technological sector. Why this sector and what is the objective of this program? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, we see the dynamism of Moldovan young people, the hunger also, to have opportunities here at home, so they don't have to leave home. My own experience is no one wants to leave home. If you leave home, you leave home because you don't have the hope, you don't have the opportunity in the place that you most love. And so, we think, and there's been a lot of analysis behind these programming choices, but we think that there is great prospect for building out the digital sector, but also enhancing the industries that already have a lot to offer with digital support.

So, for example, in the agriculture sector, we know that there's more climate -- the effects of climate change are taking more and more effect, and so, if you can build into the design model of your planting season and your harvest season, the use of drones in order to be able to monitor how your crops are doing in terms of greater risk of drought or flooding, it depends, we think that could be an asset. In other sectors, just being able to create more user-friendly means of citizens being able to access the goods that are being produced here, so, to not have to go and struggle or work to have to make a textile order, but simply go online and be able to make that order, whether you're here in Moldova, or whether you are someplace else.

We think that, again, digitization can both, you know, be, and IT can be an industry unto itself for young people, but that also, it can be a means of getting more competitiveness and more productivity out of the industries that are already showing such promise here. But the ultimate objective is employment, hope, opportunity, economic growth, and this all is very, very important alongside the political reforms, because people in Moldova, just like people all over the world, want to see changes in their lives. They want to see more opportunity. They want to live better. They want to believe that their kids are going to live with better, higher quality of life than they did or than their grandparents did. So the economic and the political programming that we do serve, I think, that same objective, of, again, building that sense of hope, particularly for young people, but not only for young people.

QUESTION: [translation] Ziarul de Garda the second question. Good evening. USAID is supporting the projects of digitalization in the public sector and against corruption. And do you see a combination of these two directions in order to provide more transparency in the public sector? We want to highlight that currently investigative journalists are paying to access databases that are said to be public, but according to the law, to their registers of businesses [unintelligible] we have to pay. And to access some databases, they have to send paper requests or to go to the offices to access this information. In this context, our question is the following. Can USAID support a project to employ a rapid access online, for free, for journalists to access public information, especially for these databases that expose and can help in fighting corruption? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me underscore a point I made in my opening comments, which is just how critical the checks and balances outside of government are to the better functioning of government, and to that creation of hope and opportunity for people. So, I met, again, with a group of independent journalists earlier today, and one of the first things they raised was exactly this issue, was the absence of an ability to gain access to the corporate registry, the fact that, of course, independent media do not -- you know, are not funded by oligarchs or other countries, where they have all these resources, where they can, you know, afford to spend a lot of money getting access to databases, and this is extremely important that that transparency exists. It's something I believe the government or the leadership in this country had committed to, and I think it's very important to move in that direction, where there is transparency, but also that a journalist's ability to do his or her job does not turn on the sources of financial support that that journalist might have, so to create a level playing field and equal access to that kind of information, not on the basis of wealth or backing.

In terms of USAID's role, I think that's something, you know, I can look into and talk to the team about, but I think that is the kind of -- that is the kind of opportunity that I think the new leadership has, you know, to further show commitment to transparency.

Beyond that, you asked about the connection between the digital and the accountability causes, and I think the connection can be very rich and very productive. When you digitize, for example, a request for social services, if it is, you know, an objective digital platform that takes away human agency and is more automated, that can remove individuals who might, in the past, have demanded a bribe from a citizen. Certainly, the corporate registry is just one example, I think, of the kind of information that can be posted online that will, you know -- even without journalists scrutinizing that information, it will allow citizens to see, you know, what resources have allegedly been provided, for example, to their school system. If that kind of information is online, and they look around, and it says that textbooks were purchased, and then, they say, "Wait, where are the textbooks?" Then, you know, there's a gap. Something has gone wrong. Maybe somebody has taken the money that was used -- that was supposed to be used for the textbooks or the desks in the school.

So we have seen this all around the world, the way in which digitizing records of what government is doing makes it possible for citizens, journalists, civil society to create much more accountability than when the records are buried in some filing cabinet in a manila folder, and no one ever even gets to see what government says it is doing, and thus, no one gets to compare what has actually happened in the community with what government has says -- has said it is doing. So I think these go together, and they're very important.

QUESTION: [translation] Madame Administrator, you mentioned today, in the government, that we are a bright spot on the map of democracy. First question is how did Moldova arrive in the speech of President Biden in the U.N. General Assembly speech? And what expectations do you have for Moldova in the Summit for Democracy of President Biden?

Another aspect connecting to the USAID assistance in Moldova: How do you see this assistance in the future, under the conditions that there are not only internal political and economical issues, but also from the outside, that are threatening the democracy in Moldova? Thank you so much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. With regard to President Biden's U.N. General Assembly speech, I look forward to returning to the United States and affirming for him that people are really listening to his speeches. [Laughter]

That his words in the General Assembly speech about Moldova, that they resonated here. There were just, I think, three examples that he pointed to in the speech, Sudan, Moldova, and Zambia, you know, three examples where some really positive change was occurring. Unfortunately, in Sudan, there was a coup several weeks ago, and so now, we are scrambling, the international community, in the hopes of getting that reform effort back on track and the military takeover reversed. But here, the momentum continues. I know it is not as quick as many hope. I can tell you, having met with The President and The Prime Minister, that they would like to go faster, which I think you know.

But I think President Biden has really defined his presidency around the importance of strengthening democracy around the world, around the idea that there is, fundamentally, a competition between two models, the democratic model and an authoritarian model. We in the United States have suffered some very severe democratic setbacks. We ourselves have seen misinformation and falsehoods result in even violence against individuals and against the state, and so I think the urgency of this cause, to strengthen democracy, is really felt by the United States, not from a distance, but we feel it up close. We feel it at home, as well. And that means really looking for opportunities where, just some kind of catalytic support, whether that's in terms of a high-level visit or additional resources, or the launch of an initiative like this one.

But keeping our eye both on political support and, you know, resources that can strengthen political reform efforts, whether that's support for civil society organizations that are holding the government accountable. This morning, we launched a renovated media center, where, you know, the media will have a venue to get more training, and ever more sophistication in the assets that the independent media is bringing to bear; that's going to be important for accountability, the strengthening of that sector. But also the partnerships we have with the government, in terms of procurement reform and anti-corruption efforts, judicial reform. We know there are a lot of stolen assets, so looking at the question of, you know, what can be done as it relates to these cases that are on the minds of so many Moldovans.

So that's all in the political area, but we also know that, when democracy delivers, when there's an economic return, that that's when you start to see people's faith in democracy increase. And that's what you hear President Biden -- he's fighting for his domestic legislation now, having just secured the bipartisan infrastructure deal, as he talks about this larger social spending package, he talks about it in these terms, democracy delivering, delivering childcare, delivering better roads, delivering clean energy. And so, you know, we also know as USAID that that's on the minds of reformers here, as well, which is yes, there's a set of -- there's this anti-corruption agenda that animates the entire government and animates so many voters here in this country, and there is a laser-like focus on creating more economic opportunity. And to think that one could do one without the other, I think, would be misleading, and that's, I think, been President Biden's approach domestically, and is also the approach that we bring at USAID, to strengthen the political working partnership in support of those who are seeking to strengthen the political and economic dividends for the people of this country.

And then, regarding the threats, just to say, I think the -- there are many actors around the world who do not wish to see democracy succeed. There are many people who have profited handsomely on decades of corruption, not only here, but in lots of countries, who don't want to see the rule of law strengthened, do not want to see, you know, truly independent prosecution, judiciary, and those threats are out there, and they have self-interest in obstructing reform efforts here and elsewhere. And that is why President Biden has also stressed the importance of democracies coming together, strengthening our alliances, which have been quite frayed in recent years, recognizing when, as is happening here in this partnership with the United States and European actors come together, we are stronger together. We have more resources to bring to bear. We have more political weight to bring to bear. And so, again, you see this support for the democracy agenda, the democracy summit, just one embodiment of that, but pursued alongside the strengthening of our relationships with fellow democracies, so that we can stand together against those who would threaten, you know, what is such an essential form of government, and the only form of government that gives the people the say in their destiny, in their lives.

Last thing, just, with regard to the summit, you know, very excited that the Moldovan president will be participating in the democracy summit. I think like President Biden's U.N. General Assembly speech, which called out Moldova and the efforts you all are making here, I'm hopeful that the democracy summit will be a platform for Moldova's democracy agenda to take the big stage, you know, where lots of heads of state and private sector actors and civil society actors will hear directly from the president about her reform agenda, hear also from her what outside actors and institutions can do in support of Moldova.

So I think it's a very important platform, but the other thing it is is it's a venue in which countries are going to make commitments, also, to additional steps that they will be taking in the future, and these commitments are developed in conjunction with, in partnership with civil society. So I think, just as the entire mandate that the government has obtained has come from the people, from the voters, because in part of activation by civil society, so, too, in this next chapter, those synergies between the government and civil society are going to be really important. And so, I think we're eager to see, not only how the president articulates her reform agenda at the summit, but also what the follow-through looks like, and how that helps deepen, you know, some of the collaboration in civil society.

QUESTION: [translation] Two questions. In your speech you said about the independent media, how do you consider a media independent? And about your program that this project will give to young people the opportunity not to leave the country, while at the same time our institutions are short of staff. Do you think that this project will affect somehow its own quality because of -- their short of professionals?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I'm not entirely sure I understood either question [laughs], but that won't stop me. So, on the first, in terms of, I think, what constitutes independent media, you know, I think it's -- I'm a former journalist, myself, so it is journalists who are motivated by pursuit of the truth, whose -- every media organization needs some form of revenue and financial support; journalists have to be paid, right, but the subscribers or the institutions that provide that support, if they are putting a thumb on the scale to try to dictate the content of the media, that creates not independent media, but dependent media, media that is dependent on a certain form of financing and thus, with that, slants what gets published, and so they are not following the facts or following the truth, but instead, following some dictate from other stakeholders, and so, that would not be independent media.

With regard to young people and whether they are leaving the country, I think, far be it from me, an American, to even speculate about what the factors are that would cause someone to wish to leave home. I mean, certainly, there are rich educational opportunities that are available here. I mean, it's interesting even just meeting with The President and Prime Minister. I'm a professor at Harvard Kennedy School when I'm not serving in the government, and both of those individuals went and sought educational opportunities at Harvard’s Kennedy School and now are back in their country. So, you know, there are lots of examples of people going away in order to acquire specialized skills, and then coming back.

I think there's a lot of enthusiasm in this government and in this society to make Moldova a magnet, a magnet for investment, a magnet that keeps its young people close, or a magnet for a diaspora who've gone abroad, but say, "Hey, there's something happening in Moldova. There's something really interesting going on. Maybe I'll make an investment in the wine industry." Or, "Wow, the textile industry, that's very special." Or, "Look, wow, here's a country that may be, I think, the only country in the world where women occupy the posts both of president and prime minister. What's going on in Moldova?"

And so, above all, that's -- one wants Moldovans to have that feeling and that pride and that sense of investment in the country, but it's also what we hope will take hold more broadly. As I was saying, the kind of "Made in Moldova" brand, you know, to see that continue to strengthen overtime.

Last updated: November 19, 2021

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