Great Expectations — and a Great Foundation — in El Salvador and Nicaragua

My schedule today began in Nicaragua and ended in El Salvador—two very different countries that nonetheless brought to the forefront one common concept: country ownership of MCC projects. Those who follow the MCC and our compacts in 16 countries worldwide know that we talk a lot about this principle.  Today in El Salvador, meeting with the men and women of FOMILENIO (the Salvadoran entity charged with the implementation and monitoring of our $461 million compact with the country), I re-emphasized the important role this concept plays in our efforts to fight poverty.

Country ownership is a fundamental part of the MCC process from beginning to end. It is not a solely academic concept or intangible idea it is one of the driving forces behind MCC programs.  When creating a compact, negotiating it, and implementing it, the countrys government, civil society, and ultimately those who benefit from our assistance, must be fully invested in the programs.  They need to be the ones participating in oversight of activities to ensure results are achieved.  This is definitely the case in El Salvador.  During the in-depth conversation this afternoon at FOMILENIO headquarters about the status of the El Salvador compact, it was clear that the Salvadorans are aware of the challenges and tangible benefits of carefully designing projects that will benefit the country in the long term, projects that will reduce poverty and sustain economic growth.

El Salvadors MCC compact, four months since entering into force, is in the early phases of implementation.  I want people to understand, as I have come to appreciate, what exactly goes on in our partner countries during this phase.  The Salvadorans who are implementing this program are setting up the structure that will make the roads, water, rural business development, education, and rural electricity programs planned for the next five years work effectively.  They are working with a firm to manage procurements efficiently and transparently.  Over the next six months, they are purchasing over $150 million worth of goods, works, and services that will make these MCC projects a reality.  They are putting out advertisements (locally and internationally) for the very best experts who can design and carry out these projects.  As is required with any solid business plan, they are mapping out in a detailed and professional way the sequence of events that will maximize the investment that comes from MCC, which is the investment of precious American taxpayer resources.

The more I talk to the people on the ground who are designing and implementing MCC projects in our partner countries, and specifically today here in El Salvador, the more I am struck by the professionalism of the teams implementing these programs.  They are experts in their field, and are people whose backgrounds match the task at hand implementing the largest MCC compact in this region.  I told my friends at FOMILENIO that I was encouraged by their attention to detail and their focus on efficiency.  Finding the right balance between responding rapidly, yet responsibly, to poverty reduction is the only way to ensure that the results will stick and the benefits will last.

Speaking of details, the MCC is currently looking at ways to better present and communicate details of the implementation of our projects, to the U.S. taxpayer.  Transparency is our responsibility at MCC as much as it is the responsibility of the entities working in our partner countries.  I welcome feedback on how we can better communicate the progress and successes in our compact countries, many of which I have seen first-hand in my travels.  (Feel free to contact MCC at at any time.)

FOMILENIO shared some powerful images with me, of a few of the projects underway in the northern region of the country that so desperately needs infrastructure improvements to stimulate its economy.  I am attaching a few of them here so that you can see the current appalling condition of a sampling of the roads that will be rebuilt and the river crossings that are in desperate need of bridges.

While the day ended with a discussion of progress on the ground in El Salvador, it began with an exciting, momentous day in the history of U.S.-Nicaragua relations.  I was honored to be able to preside at the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Managua.  Together with Ambassador Paul Trivelli and an impressive array of representatives from the full spectrum of Nicaraguan society, I was pleased to participate in the official opening of an impressive, efficient, and beautiful new structure that is a worthy symbol of the U.S. governments constructive engagement in that country.