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Treasury Secretary Tells of Opportunity for Productive Investment in Africa - 2002-06-05

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has just returned from a four-country junket to Africa. In his speech at Georgetown University Wednesday, Mr. O'Neill said there are signs of progress in African development, but much more needs to be done.

Mr. O'Neill said he was deeply affected by the suffering he witnessed during visits to AIDS clinics in South Africa and Ethiopia. Referring to assistance programs that have not worked, he said there must be higher standards and measurable results. If he were determining where assistance was allocated, it would go, he said, to wise leaders committed to ending corruption and improving lives.

Mr. O'Neill finds opportunities for productive investment throughout Africa. "I saw three kinds of investments in people that are vital to realizing Africa's potential: clean water, primary education and fighting HIV-AIDS. Clean water is surely of the most essential elements of a dignified, civilized life. No aspect of infrastructure is more basic."

Mr. O'Neill said it is unacceptable that nearly half of all people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean water.

Mr. O'Neill said while debt forgiveness may be helpful, it alone is not the solution.

How, the Treasury Secretary asked, can foreign assistance be made more effective? "We have to be demanding of ourselves," he said, "that we are finally going to produce results on these things [like clean water] that are so tangible and clear. And not be forgiving and not accept excuses, not say the world is more complicated than that. But we need to do it with a combination of clarity and freedom for African leaders to figure out the implementation."

The core of the problem is that despite billions of dollars of assistance, most Africans today are poorer than they were three decades ago. Mr. O'Neill has long been a bitter critic of aid programs that do not work.

Despite this, he has been the driving force behind the Bush administration's plan to boost assistance to Africa.