Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the U.S. – Cambodia Bilateral Agreement Signing

Ambassador William A. Heidt at the U.S. – Cambodia Bilateral Agreement Signing
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), Phnom Penh
March 30, 2016

H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, H.E. Chieng Yanara, Deputy Secretary General of Council for the Development of Cambodia, distingquished representatives from the Royal Government of Cambodia, USAID Mission Director Rebecca Black and colleagues from the U.S. Embassy, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very honored to participate in this ceremony today to bring into force two new Development Objective Grant Agreements between the United States and the Royal Government of Cambodia. These new agreements establish the formal mechanism through which the U.S. government will support Cambodia’s National Development Plan. We welcome in particular the new steering committees established under these agreements, which we hope will develop quickly into very frank and effective channels for dialogue between our two countries. We are committed to making these steering committees work, and work well.

Cambodia has achieved impressive gains in the education, health, agriculture, and environment sectors in the last decade. Having lived in Phnom Penh in the late 1990s, and having witnessed the deep poverty in Cambodia then, I see this progress everywhere I look today. The Royal Government, and all Cambodians, should be proud of the progress the country has made, and take from it confidence that Cambodia can also meet the challenges of the future.

As a long-time friend of Cambodia – and husband to a “gon Khmae” – I am very grateful for the partnership between our two countries over the past two decades. Together, we have worked to address many key development challenges. Together, we’ve pushed back HIV/AIDS from its dangerous levels in the 1990s. Together, we’ve helped farmers increase their yields and enabled them to feed, educate, and access healthcare for their families. And together, we’ve worked with Cambodians to take advantage of innovations in science and technology to improve many aspects of life.

We are very proud that our assistance in the health, education, agriculture, and environment sectors has supported Cambodia’s success. Cambodia’s strong progress in these areas – working hand-in-hand with the donor partners in support of the National Development Plan – isn’t just good for Cambodia.

It also shows the world that strong national leadership coupled with effective partnerships with governments, NGOs, and the private sector really work. As we look to address other global challenges ranging from food security to combating the effects of climate change, it is important to demonstrate that we can accomplish more working together than we can alone.

The signing of these two agreements today marks the next phase of the United State’s support for Cambodia’s development. Cambodia now faces new challenges as it becomes a lower middle income country. Issues like competitiveness, increasing the skill level of Cambodia’s workforce, and fostering excellence in science, information technology, and engineering will become increasingly important for Cambodia’s success.

But progress in all these areas depends on well-educated and healthy citizens, which in turn are the fundamental building blocks for a prosperous and competitive Cambodia. So our work together remains every bit as critical for Cambodia’s future success as it was 20 years ago.

Before I close, I want to say a few words about Rebecca Black, USAID’s Mission Director in Cambodia. I am sad to report that Rebecca will depart in June after an extremely successful three years in Cambodia.

Her focus on aligning U.S. government programming with Cambodia’s priorities, her strong relations with colleagues across the Royal Government of Cambodia, and her encyclopedic knowledge of development issues have made Rebecca a huge asset for the U.S. Mission. Her departure is a great loss to us, and I want to recognize her for the great work she has done in Cambodia. Thank you for all that you’ve done, Rebecca. You will be greatly missed.

And I would also like to thank you, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, for your many years of service to the Royal Government and the Cambodian people. I saw the recent press reports of your upcoming retirement from the Government. As a career economic officer, I have enormous respect for the work you have done to put Cambodia on a sustainable path of economic growth.

I often say that being the Finance Minister in a developing country is the most difficult job in the world. Every person who walks in your door wants something—more money for health, or education, or salaries. Or perhaps they want a tax break to spur investment. But, of course, there’s never enough money to make everyone happy, and so tough choices need to be made.

You made these tough choices for many years as Finance Minister, and since your move to the Council of Ministers, you have a valuable mentor to a new generation of government officials. I respect your work, and career, very much, and so it’s a great honor that you took time in your final week in office to sign these agreements Let me conclude here. Thank you again for inviting me to participate in this ceremony today. Today is a great day that shows how much we can accomplish when we work together. Thank you very much.