Romania is getting close to its 100th birthday with a lot of things to be proud of, but it’s important to be united not only in terms of its geographical borders, but also in terms of the opportunities that it gives to all its people, Country Manager for Romania and Hungary of the World Bank Tatiana Proskuryakova told AGERPRES in an interview.
She underscored that Romania has highschool students who win international competitions and great engineers, IT professionals, but not all the country inhabitants have the possibility to get here, because they encounter barriers related to their social background or the fact that they come from rural areas.
In her view, these differences could be diminished as the investments in the education and healthcare systems increase, which would determine more Romanians to stay or return to the country. At the same time, practitioners should be consulted and allowed to decide how to best use the funding.
Another paradox which the World Bank representative sees in Romania is the fact that poverty remains high as the country gets richer and richer, this being another proof that not all the people take advantage of the good economic results.
Moreover, if she were Romania’s Prime Minister, Tatiana Proskuryakova would clearly focus on the development of the country, taking into account that Romania recorded its greatest progress when preparing to join the European Union, when there was a clear vision and everybody knew what to do.
How does Romania look like in its key-sectors?
So, I think that Romania is coming to its 100th birthday with a lot of things to be proud of. It’s a very impressive country, a member of the European Union, one of the fastest growing countries in Europe and also together with Poland, Romania is one of the countries that benefited most from the EU Cohesion Policies. So, my main message is that Romania should be very proud of the accomplishments.
Another thing that it’s important to know about Romania, when you look at how it is developing, is that, unfortunately, as the country continues to grow its social and geographical divisions are not closing up. And that I thing, it’s the greatest challenge that Romania is facing today.
Can you tell us which is the most impressive thing in Romania that we did in the last 30 years for example?
I think that Romania has really changed its model of development and the fact that the country has embraced democracy, and has started the process of transition with market economy, joined the European Union, all of these were decisions that are the foundation of today’s success for the country and the foundation of the future prospects for Romania. So, I think, that’s the most impressive thing that happened and everything else flows from that.
What about the differences between our country and the developed countries?
As I said, in my mind, the greatest challenge that Romania is facing is the continuing divisions, social and geographical divisions in the country. And I think this is a topic that is particularly pertinent as we talk about 100 years of unification in Romania. I think it’s very important for Romania to be united not only in terms of its geographical borders, but also in terms of opportunities that it gives to all its people, regardless of where they are from or what social background they come from.
This is, I think, the challenge, but also the opportunity, because I think if Romania succeeds in healing this divides, than sky is the limit for its development. Social cohesion within the country is not only the right thing to do socially and morally, but it’s also great economic policy, because we see that this could be a foundation of sustained growth in the future.
So what should we do?
I think the most important thing is to invest in education. You might have seen our report recently on human capital and this report makes a very compelling argument, that investment in human capital, in skills and in health of the population is what makes a country competitive and what makes people able to lift themselves out of poverty, and create welfare for themselves and for their neighbors.
In Romania what we see is huge contrasts. On the one hand, Romania produces the best professionals in the world. Every year highschool students from Romania win international competitions in science, in technology, we have a very robust IT sector with great engineers and IT professionals. At the same time, we see that in rural areas, often, young people do not have the same advantages. Only one percent of high-performing highschools are in rural areas. But 83 percent of non-performing highschools are in rural areas. And healing this divide, giving opportunities to all children in Romania to do well in life it’s something that will set up this country for competitiveness in the future, in a new economy.
So, if you ask me for one thing where I would invest, I would invest in education. And if I may, I wanted to tell you a story. I traveled lot in Romania and I met a lot of people, and we have a project called ROSE [Romanian Systematic Education – e.n.], which is focusing on education, and in particular, in helping schools that struggle, helping children at risk of dropping out of school. And I recently visited two such highschools which were put it in our project, one in Pucioasa and one in Iasi, and I was really amazed that with a little bit of incremental funding and allowing school principals to use this incremental funding the way they see fit has allowed these schools to achieve spectacular results. In some cases doubling Baccalaureate pass rate in one year and significantly reducing drop-out rates. So, I see great potential here, but I would like to encourage Romania to invest more in education and skills.
Are we on the right trend?
I think that more can be done in terms of financing, for example, for health and education. As I said, giving a little bit more money to this sectors, but also allowing more initiative by the practitioners, listening to school principals and to hospital directors how the funds are spent. Maybe also rewarding performance more directly. And I think that is what I am trying to do with our programme, the World Bank programme in Romania. We are very much focusing on health and education, and I look forward to working with the Government on these areas.
What can you say about the Romanian health system?
Tatiana Proskuryakova: I think Romanian health system just as education can be improved by providing more opportunities to everyone, to have greater access and greater quality of care. We have recently done the analysis of financing in both health and education sectors, and one lesson is that in both of these sectors Romania used to invest more, but also to invest more smartly, more efficiently. And again, giving opportunity to health practitioners on the ground to use resources more wisely is what I would do.
What about the poverty rate in Romania?
So, this is the direct consequence of what I said about the persisting social divisions. This means that poverty remains high as the country gets richer and richer. So, if I were to see one thing improve in Romania is I would like to see more people take advantage of the increasing wealth of this country.
In this moment, who is taking advantage of the fact that Romania is richer?
Tatiana Proskuryakova: I think that, in general, in this world, when we have a new economy developing people with better skills are better positioned to compete and to take advantage of new economic opportunities. And this is why, let me repeat again, I think investment in education and skills is the foundation of future growth and prosperity for Romania.
So if you were the Prime Minister of Romania, which would be the first measure you would take tomorrow?
I think that I would be very proud to be Prime Minister of Romania because it is a country with fantastic opportunities, it is a country that has all ingredients for success. What I would focus on is I would focus on a long-term vision for this country. I think the greatest reforms and greatest progress in Romania, in recent years, was made when the country was preparing to join the European Union. Because it gave everybody a clear goal and a clear vision of the future. I think we need to reinvigorate this process and we need to think as a society – where is this country going, how can we create better opportunities for all Romanians, how do we see this country in the future.
One of the challenges that I also see in Romania is a demographic challenge. This is a country with shrinking population and a very high level of migration. It is important, in the vision for the future, to see how to make this country attractive for young people so that they stay, that they have families here, that they come back. And again, let me repeat again, that investing in better education and health is, in fact, a very good start for this. Because when you talk to families, whether they want to stay or they want to leave, a crucial ingredient in this decision is the quality of healthcare and education for their kids. So, if I were the Prime Minister of Romania, I would invest in health and education.
I saw displayed at the entrance, at this level, that you have some traditional items from Romanian villages and I wanted to ask you how could Romania benefit from its traditions?
The cultural traditions of Romania, it’s very rich cultural heritage is one of the riches, one of the assets that Romania has for its future development, together with geographical position, with its wonderful climate, great arable lands, ski resorts, shore line and so on. But the most important that Romania has is its people. So drawing on the traditions and drawing on the future opportunities, investing in skills, investing in better human capital is the way to go. Cultural traditions are a fantastic opportunity to showcase the country and we all have deep roots, Romania certainly has very deep roots, I think it’s a great advantage in every area.
What do you tell about Romania to your closest friend, family back home?
I tell them that I’m very fortunate to be here, I tell them to come and visit, and to see the beauties of this country. Not just in Bucharest, but everywhere. We had a chance, we had a family trip last summer, we drove all around Romania and I was really blown away by the beauty of this country, and by the warmth of its people. I’ve seen many different parts and I think there is beauty and variety as well. I loved the mountains, I loved the sea, the monasteries, but as I said, the most important thing is when you meet the people and they take you to their heart, and this is the most fantastic feeling that you can have. Also, I always recommend the food.