Thank you and good evening.
I am honored to be here with MCC Board Member Alan Patricof, one of the giants of American enterprise, to celebrate the extraordinarily successful partnership between the United States and Georgia in promoting Georgian enterprise and economic growth.
Mr. Patricof and I have come to Tbilisi to mark the completion of a 5-year program. MCC has closed only three compacts in its short history and I am proud to say that the Georgia compact will be remembered for its remarkable achievements, and for how it has demonstrated that the United States and Georgia are not only good friends, but good business partners.
MCC compacts stand apart from most traditional development assistance: They require a commitment to good policy performance to create the conditions for investments to succeed; they must be completed in 5 years (which many people tell me is completely unreasonable); and they are managed directly by our partner countries. This compact exemplified each of these characteristics: the World Bank’s Doing Business index rated Georgia one of the most improved environments in the world for doing business, thanks to your government’s far-reaching liberalization efforts; you completed in 5 years what some said would take at least 7 years to do; and you proved your country has the capability to plan and carry out complex projects on time and on budget.
President Saakashvilil, Prime Minister Gilauri – I want to commend you for your leadership. Ambassador Bass – your strong support has been vital and has promoted the shared interests of the United States and Georgia. Mr. Abdushelishvili and the distinguish board members and staff of Millennium Challenge Georgia – you have set the standard for dedication and effectiveness. And finally, I want to recognize my own team, Jim McNicholas and Jennifer Lappin. Thank you all. Your hard work has helped thousands of people and laid foundations for future growth and prosperity.
Last night, Mr. Patricof and I had the privilege of attending a traditional supra at Tsinandali House, the home of Alexandre Chavchavadze, a poet, businessman, and social reformer and modernizer during the 19th century. I found it particularly appropriate to toast Georgia’s remarkable progress at the start of the 21st century in his house. We also visited the ancient Jvari monastery and the cathedral at Mtshketa. Seeing these marvelous legacies of Western civilization – and icons of Georgia’s golden age – I was struck by the words of another Georgian reformer and modernizer, President Saakashvili, who said, “Georgia is not just a European country, but one of the most ancient European countries.”
Looking at the rapid progress in the last decade, it looks like Georgia has begun a reawakening – a march toward a new golden age. Real progress in stamping out corruption and raising the integrity of public institutions is a key ingredient, and is reflected in the country’s sustained economic growth and in the interest of private investors and institutions such as the MCC to do business here.
Over the last several days, Mr. Patricof and I have traveled through much of Georgia, meeting with farmers and business leaders and getting a firsthand look at how MCC financing is contributing to economic growth.
At every step of the way, we were impressed by the hard work and determination of the people of Georgia to make the MCC projects succeed.
On Monday, we visited the Minister of Energy, Mr. Khetaguri, and the management team at the Georgian Oil and Gas Company, who told us how MCC financing enabled them to complete repairs at 22 sites on the pipeline, increase tariff collections to more than 95 percent, and reduce technical losses to under 2 percent. This outstanding performance has attracted $70 million in new investment from USAID for further upgrades to the natural gas distribution network. Economic growth relies on a well-functioning energy industry. Minister Khetaguri, congratulations for the progress your Ministry and the GOGC are making toward a secure energy future.
We have heard much about the value and challenges of finishing the Samtskhe-Javakheti Road so we were thrilled to drive down it and see it for ourselves. As beautiful as that new road is, the action by the Ministry of Infrastructure to increase its road maintenance fund by 67 percent may be even more important. In the long run, an effective road maintenance policy may yield more returns than the initial investment in building a road. Both are essential to a long-term vision of integrating the country’s commerce north to south and opening up new regional markets.
I am particularly pleased that MCC made direct investments in small-and medium-sized enterprises. Georgia’s agriculture industry has wonderful potential, and it is a point of great satisfaction that MCC financing helped 280 agribusinesses expand, resulting in the creation of over 2,800 jobs. We met several of these farmers at the farm service center in Telavi this week, and heard their inspiring stories of how a little capital can make a big difference.
All of this progress has been made thanks to the vision of leaders such as President Obama and MCC Board Chair Secretary Hillary Clinton, who have been steadfast supporters of the MCC and Georgia; President Saakashvili and MCA Chair Prime Minister Gilauri, who have provided the high-level attention to keep the compact on track and deliver results; and of course, the hard work of the people of Georgia.
This vision and hard work are the major reasons that in January the MCC Board of Directors invited Georgia to develop a proposal for a second compact. Prime Minister Gilauri – as you know, developing a proposal that meets the MCC’s investment criteria and rigorous guidelines can be both demanding and time-consuming. Since Georgia has successfully completed one compact, we have very high expectations for the second. I am pleased to say that having had the opportunity to meet Ms. Kovzeridze, who I understand you have named to lead the team that will develop your proposal, I feel confident that we have an experienced and capable counterpart for the compact development process. Thank you for that.
But we did not come here to talk about future investments. We are here to commemorate the success of MCC’s $395 million investment over the last five years.
I mentioned that I visited the home of Georgian poet Alexandre Chavchavadze, who was famous for his advocacy of an independent and revitalized Georgia. I’d like to close my remarks tonight with a few lines from another Georgian poet named Chavchavadze, whose poem, titled “Spring,” reminds me not only of the flowers coming into bloom and the work in the fields that I saw as I traveled around this beautiful country, but of the progress and renewal I see in Georgia today:
Spring weaves a gown of green to clad
The mountain height and wide-spread field
O when wilt thou, my native land,
In all thy glory stand revealed?
Tonight, thanks to all of you in this room, and to the hard work of Georgians across the nation, we are witnessing your march closer and closer to the day when all of Georgia’s glory will stand revealed.