MS ORTAGUS: Okay. This is on the record, right? Yeah?
QUESTION: On the record. Yes.
MS ORTAGUS: Well, Mark has some opening remarks. He’ll start. All of you know him. And we can go into Q&A. He just spoke a few minutes ago. Right before he came here, he had a speaking event, and so he can highlight all of the good work he’s doing.
QUESTION: Can we record audio?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, it’s on the record. Go ahead.
MS ORTAGUS: Do your thing.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Yeah, and you just reminded me, so at the – I was at the CSU Transatlantic Forum, and we began by pointing out that it is Valentine’s Day, and we were talking about how relationships can become – what is it? – boring and needed to be constantly tended to. That said, I’ve been married 34 years, just in case it isn’t Chatham House rules. I’m not bored, I’m happy. (Laughter.)
But anyway, thanks – thanks to all of you. This is my third time here at the Munich Security Conference, first as administrator. Last year I was going to come and something called Venezuela pulled me aside. So what I will do here is I’ll have appearances like the CSU Transatlantic Forum, but also it’s a chance to meet with partners and potential partners.
As many of you know, what we’ve done at USAID the last couple of years is to really change the framework to our approach in foreign assistance, and we’re guided by the very simple principle that we believe the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. And we say that not as a matter of walking away from the partners. Instead what we want to do is where we have partners who are willing to do the difficult things that are necessary to get to self-reliance, we feel an obligation to walk with them along the way. And that really is the operating principle for us, what we call the journey to self-reliance.
This year in particular, as I look ahead, a lot of our work is going to be governance-oriented – citizen-responsive governance, citizen-centered governance – for a couple of reasons. Number one, I don’t believe that our investments are sustainable if you don’t have citizen-responsive governance in the countries where you’re working. But also, I believe it’s a key part of taking on some of the drivers of conflict and displacement that we all see around the world right now. And so that’s a lot of what I’ll be talking about while I’m here in Munich.
Inevitably, we will talk about the crises of the day, so that’s coronavirus, Ebola, the usual, all of you know very, very well. But as much as anything, I’m going to spend – try to spend a lot of my time talking about what our vision for assistance is and looking for ways to continue to partner with many who are here and use that to accelerate our work.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Go ahead, Nick.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. Can you talk a little bit about the tension between, on the one hand, wanting to push countries to self-sufficiency but also the strategic competition with China and the sense that China is filling the vacuum, whether through loans and things like that but also through foreign assistance? It seems like those two goals in some ways are in conflict.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great question. First, to be very clear, my vision for the journey to self-reliance isn’t to push countries away at all. It’s instead based upon my long-held notions about human dignity and the innate desire of every human being, regardless of where they are and what their status in life is, their economic fortunes, to want to be able to guide their own future. I started off my career in development coincidentally thanks to the Nobel laureate Michael Kremer, who is an old friend of 30 years. He’s actually the guy that brought me to Kenya to be a teacher, and that’s how I got started in all this.
But I was struck in those days when I was living in a small village in Kenya. People were very poor and they had lots of health challenges, and yet everyone had that same burning desire to try to lead themselves. In the entire year I served as a teacher, not one person ever asked me for money. They might have asked for books; they might have asked for extra lessons; they might ask for assistance in those terms. And that really is my personal driver in the approach that we have is this trying to tap into that natural human dignity, innate desire, and build upon it.
The reason I don’t think it’s in conflict with how we see great power competition vis-a-vis China is China’s model is the opposite. We are for self-reliance; they offer in many respects subservience. We offer independence and try to bolster sovereignty, and they try to create dependence as much as they can, oftentimes putting – collateralizing strategic assets, and I would argue in many cases in the developing world robbing the emerging generation of young people of the birthright of their natural resources.
So I think the contrast is sharp and I think we sometimes don’t do a very good job of pushing that contrast out. That’s part of what I think one of my responsibilities is, is to make that clear.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead, John.
QUESTION: Hey, Mark. What’s the latest in trying to get the Houthis to lift restrictions on aid to Yemen, and the U.S. outlook on what the best step forward should be?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Our outlook is always one of being hopeful, but also tempered with realities. As you know, this is a longstanding problem and grievance. We are of an extraordinarily compassionate nature. We’re the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the world. We want to help the longsuffering people of Yemen. The Houthis are putting up restrictions that make it difficult to do that, and that’s something that we refuse to stand still for. So we are working with our partners, our donor partners, including the UN family, to develop a unified response to this. But it obviously is entirely unacceptable for the Houthis to be blocking access to provide humanitarian relief to people who have suffered so much.
QUESTION: And do you get a sense that there might be a compromise in the coming on the Houthi side?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, I can just tell you, from my lane and the work that I do, we are not going to allow our assistance to be diverted. We’re not going to allow our assistance to be hindered. So that’s our point of view. In terms of what our diplomatic lead may be doing in communications, I’m just not part of that.
MODERATOR: Katie, did you have one?
QUESTION: Yes, please. Thank you for being here today. Can you please talk about how you tackle the issue of corruption and the government officials in these countries who are interested in money versus the citizens you’re trying to help become self-sustaining and how you kind of balance the two?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It’s a great question. So a couple of ways. First off, a lifetime ago, when I as a member of Congress, I was one of the leading coauthors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which as you know is conditional assistance and has at its heart the corruption part – hurdle we call it. So we have sent an unmistakable signal that we have zero tolerance for corruption.
On the other side of that, something that’s really struck me over the last year in some of my travels – in some places where we work, we have countries that are fairly newly emerging from authoritarianism. I think we assume that transparency is the natural state of man and governance. Sadly, it is not always the case, especially countries emerging from communist rule. And so part of what we’re looking to do is to develop tools to help especially a young generation going into government service and dealing with government on how to govern transparently, giving them the tools and teaching them how you do citizen responsiveness.
I often tell people that one of the most impressive things I ever saw back from my days at the International Republican Institute – we were training women mayors in Central America basic tools, things like a town hall. And I attended a town hall where a very impressive new woman mayor brought road equipment with her to the town hall and when someone said, “I have a pothole,” she turned to someone and clicked her finger, and the guy took off and fixed it during the town hall meeting, to which I said, “Boy, could I use her.” But we have to teach that in some cases and we have to provide some tools.
Good news is there are simple, frugal technologies available thanks to smartphones – not even smartphones, dumb phones in some cases – that should make transparency easier than ever. Our job is to utilize those tools in innovative ways to ensure that that transparency takes place.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that, is the influence of China and the amount of money that they bring creating a larger challenge for that mission?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Very much so. Sure it is. Sure it is. Again, it’s on us to show the difference and the contrast. I will say, sadly, there are economic disasters out there that are making the case for us, when all of a sudden countries realize the burden of their indebtedness to China. And now that’s something – it’s no longer the U.S. simply preaching. There are now very obvious case studies about the disaster that took place there.
So the first question in part was about the contrast with China. So China doesn’t want transparency. It can’t have transparency. In most cases, our approach in the great power competition is to going to governments and saying look, disclose everything. You can disclose every term of every piece of assistance we do; you can disclose the projects and the programs. We simply ask that China do the same thing, and of course they will not.
MODERATOR: Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Two things. One very specifically on Venezuela, are you aware of allegations that the – at least some of the aid that was sent down to – what’s the name of that border town?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Cucuta?
QUESTION: That that was mishandled somehow? And if you are aware of those allegations, what do you make of them? And then I have a broader question, but —
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So what I can tell you is, as you put out when Juan Guaido visited us last week?
MODERATOR: Last week, yes.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It’s a bit of a blur. It’s misinformation. It’s not true.
QUESTION: Okay. So –
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: No diversion of USAID money.
QUESTION: But you’re aware – you are aware that —
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: No diversion of USAID money.
QUESTION: I understand. So but you – what’s the intent? Do you have any idea? Why are they – why are the people who are behind this trying —
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Oh, people will do anything they can to muddy up the U.S. involvement, leadership, and Juan Guaido. I don’t think —
QUESTION: Did you – was this addressed at the time of his visit?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I can’t tell you about meetings that occurred prior to my meeting with him. What I can tell you is we look at this all the time, all the time. And we are constantly, everywhere in the world, assessing and reassessing to make sure that there’s no diversion. We use things like third-party verification, biometrics, everything we know how to do.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the broader question is I – people – most people I think are fairly sympathetic to your vision for foreign assistance, which is you want to make it unnecessary. But that doesn’t exactly seem to be this administration’s approach. The approach of the President, the White House, the OMB, others is not let’s get – let’s make it unnecessary so we don’t have to spend it. It’s just like let’s get rid of it completely, and there is no qualifier there.
And the reductions or proposed reductions that have been made over the course of the last three years don’t have any nuance here. It’s not like oh, we want to help country X become self-sufficient because – so that they don’t need our assistance. It’s more like you know what, country X isn’t doing what we want it to do, so like with the Northern Triangle. So they’ve essentially withdrawn it.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Obviously, I can’t speak to other forms of assistance, military assistance or any of that. What I can tell you is the approach that we take, our framework, and you can see country by country what we’re doing. In many cases our expanded work – to be very clear, when we talk about ending the need for foreign assistance, we recognize that every country is in a different place on their journey. Some countries are close and other countries not so close.
And so what we do is country by country, we have – and they’re on our website – we publish road maps. We have 17 objective third-party metrics that measure a country’s capacity in key sectors as well as their commitment in key sectors. And it’s not perfect. My brothers and sisters in Congress sometimes have extra directives that they give to us, but as a general matter, we try to prioritize our investments according to those metrics. And we use those metrics working – and it’s – usually, we try to have State as the lead. The chief of mission in a country will sit down with as high up the governing chain as they can go and have a conversation about the metrics and say, “Look, how can we tackle these things together?”
We have countries that are – obviously, the great story is we want every country to go from being a recipient to a partner to a fellow donor – the South Korea story. We have exciting projects at hand with countries like India. India, when USAID began, we would ship sacks of food to them. If we shipped sacks of food to them now, they would shrug their shoulders and say, “What are we supposed to do with this?”
Together, we’re catalyzing investments and innovative technology. We’re using innovative finance methods like development impact bonds. And India is joining with us in places like Afghanistan. They’re now the fifth largest donor to Afghanistan and helping to train young Afghan women on how to start and run small businesses. We would like every country – and we believe every country already wants to be on that journey, and we try to tailor our approach country by country.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, but I —
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. All right. Thanks. Go ahead, Courtney.
MS ORTAGUS: That’s two in a row, Matt. Give your colleagues a chance.
QUESTION: Somewhat related to some of the previous questions, I’m curious how your interlocutors, both in donor and receiving countries, are responding to this approach that you’re outlining with foreign assistance. I mean, do they think that you – that the U.S. Government has the credibility, and are they going along with this message?
And then relatedly, on the China question, are you concerned that even if countries that see the long-term risks of accepting of debt financing that perhaps individual leaders are more interested in their own short-term benefit?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So let me answer the second part of that first. Yes, I am worried about the consequences of Chinese investment in some places – the indebtedness, the securitization of assets and resources, but also the diversion from, quite frankly, what people need and want in everyday citizens. Yes, that is a concern.
To the first part of your question, when I first arrived at the agency about two and a half years ago and sort of laid out what my personal vision is for assistance, this notion of ending the need for foreign assistance, what was amazing to me was some people in Washington saying, “Well, that’s kind of a harsh message.” That actually isn’t in our partner countries. Every country that I have ever traveled to or worked in, they all want so. Everyone wants naturally to lead their own future. I think it is part of the American character to help them as we can.
And it’s not always about money. For example, the country of Albania, we’re working with them. When I met with the prime minister in Albania some weeks ago now, he was very frank. He said, “Love everything you guys have done for us. Some of those old programs we actually don’t need anymore. What we need is technical assistance on corruption and transparency.” So in that case, it really isn’t about the money. It’s providing some technical expertise. What we want to do is tailor our approach country by country to try to help people achieve their aspirations.
I have this notion that one of the greatest things America can do in being a force for good in the world is to help countries reach out and rise. That’s what brought my parents to America, and I mean, that’s what we believe in. I think that’s a shared vision.
MS ORTAGUS: You have a three o’clock, so we’ll give Cindy the last question. I’m sorry. We’ll give you two in the next time.
MS ORTAGUS: You can just bump him out by taking your question.
QUESTION: Hey, what’s all this abuse? (Laughter.)
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about —
MS ORTAGUS: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: — African countries’ in particular ability to cope with the coronavirus? Is that high on their radar right now or not so much? And are they taking precautionary measures?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So last week, I attended the Africa dinner, which was the night before the prayer breakfast, and met with a number of African leaders. And there is naturally concern. And I mean, we’re all concerned, obviously, right? What I will say and something that I am very proud of on the part of the agency are the investments made over the years, long before I came along, that have helped countries to build their capacity to detect infectious diseases like this.
So one of the least covered success stories of the last year comes from the Ebola outbreak. So we have the Ebola outbreak in DRC, Ebola crosses over; there’s a case detected in Uganda. Potentially catastrophic, right? The investments that have been made, the technical assistance and equipment provided in Uganda, enabled them quickly to do the testing, the contact tracing, the immediate isolation, and that’s about as good a story – it’s obviously a tragedy for the victim involved, but it worked.
And those are the investments that we’ve made in a number of places. Not everywhere, clearly, but I think that we’ve seen a number of countries that are so much better off and so much better equipped to deal with the challenge of coronavirus and other infectious diseases, and I think it would have been – it beared watching. Obviously, we all know that and we know there is a lot we don’t know, but nonetheless, those investments that have been made, bipartisan over the years, multiple administrations – people should be proud of that. That’s a good news story.
MS ORTAGUS: Pooja says that, Abbie, he has time for one more.
QUESTION: Oh, (inaudible).
QUESTION: I had the same question on (inaudible).
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, so you’re good. Okay.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) part of that, if I could. The budget that put forward suggests making cuts to a lot of global health programs, and clearly, in this time when you’re looking at coronavirus and you’re looking at kind of dealing with that, doesn’t that create a challenge in situations like this?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, as we go through the budget process over the course of the coming – I’d love to say a couple of months, much more likely to be longer than that – I’ll testify, we’ll testify, and we’ll obviously work with Congress as well as other parts of the administration to make sure that the resources are there.
I will say we should remember that we don’t live year to year, so there are resources that we have. So, for example, the money that the Secretary has pledged on coronavirus of 100 million, those are existing funds, so there are resources there. It’s not down to zero and it requires a new appropriation for there to be any money. But we will do our very best to report to everybody involved what we see as needs and what we see in capacities.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks, Mark.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Appreciate it.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thanks to all of you.