NNA - Marking the third year since his election as President of the Lebanese Republic, President Michel Aoun, delivered they following mid-term speech:
“My fellow Lebanese,
Great people of Lebanon,
As the first half of my presidential tenure has come to an end, I address you today to present to you a sort of “statement of account” which features what I have undertaken in my inaugural speech, what has been and what has not been achieved, and what I am still striving to achieve, with the set plans and the difficulties we are facing.
This statement of account has become all the more necessary after the movement of demonstrations and sit-ins that have recently taken place and have resulted in the resignation of the government.
In my inaugural speech, I have committed to ensuring security, political and economic stability. I have committed to combating terrorism, implementing the National Entente Document, achieving an electoral law that secures fair representation for all the components of the Lebanese people. I have undertaken to work for ensuring the return of the Syrian displaced to their country, and I have committed to fighting corruption.
Priority has been granted to security stability and fighting terrorism because it is the foundation of any other stability. Based on this fact, we have taken the necessary political decision; the new postings in the army and security organs led to joining forces, uprooting terrorist organizations and eradicating their sleeper cells, and that was the first step.
The second step was ensuring political stability, knowing that the first of its obligations was the adoption of an electoral law that guarantees fair representation. Despite all the accumulated difficulties, this law was enacted, and after a difficult ‘labor’, the new Parliament produced a national unity government in which all the components of our society were duly represented. It secured the desired stability, and it was supposed to dedicate itself to tackling the crises that beset the nation, on top of which the economic crisis and the livelihood concerns.
The third step was to deal with paralysis in many of the State institutions through a set of appointments and by activating the role of these institutions which was missing for years.
In this context came the recent judicial appointments and the judicial reform which is a sustainable process because the judiciary purifies itself on its own if the politicians keep their hands off it.
The fourth step was down the path of bringing public finance back under the Constitution and the Public Accountancy Act, whereas three budgets have been passed after 12 years of discontinuation and random expenditure in contradiction with the Constitution. The 2020 Budget has also been forwarded to Parliament within the constitutional deadline for the first time in a while, and with a low deficit, without any increase in taxation for citizens, with a ceiling for indebtedness and a drastic decrease in vain expenses.
In the same framework, we refused settlements on financial accounts, and subsequently financial accounts were re-formed from 1993 to date, and were forwarded to the Court of Audit to be scrutinized and judicially validated.
The fifth step, rather the fifth problem, was the pressing economic crisis entailed by an accumulation of inappropriate economic and financial policies, and rampant waste and corruption, coupled with the crises and wars of the surroundings.
Because Lebanon has a millennial offshore and subterranean treasure, I insisted on dedicating the first agenda item of the first government meeting to the oil and gas extraction decrees, and indeed, drilling will begin in two months, and Lebanon will thus enter the club of oil producing countries, which will guarantee for it an economic breathing space on the long run.
Great efforts were exerted for economic handlings, yet they did not entail the desired outcome; in fact, the national economic plan still awaits its adoption, and the infrastructure projects whose funding will be secured by the CEDRE conference donors, are frozen. Yet, they are supposed to move forward after the resigned government met most of the set conditions, especially in the last budget and the accompanying decisions. Nevertheless, the government resigned and this heavy file awaits the new government which must put it on the right and fast track.
There remains the issue of the Syrian displaced… Ever since I have taken office as President, I have carried with me this crisis to the international and Arabic fora, and it has been a fundamental axis of my meetings with international envoys. I have explained the subsequent burdens that Lebanon is incurring and I have called for a solution thereof, regardless of political solutions, but the answers were almost the same: elaborate speech about the humanitarian role played by Lebanon, and political speech about linking the return to reaching a political solution, with continuous pressure to keep the displaced where they are, in order to use them later as a bargaining chip upon imposing political settlements. This is what Lebanon rejected categorically and it is now paying the price of this rejection.
My Fellow Lebanese,
Fellow citizens who have taken part in protests, especially the youth,
Despite all the noise that tried to strangle, disrupt or divert your true voice, you have succeeded in making your it heard, this voice which loudly claimed a trusted government, a fight against corruption which has eroded the State and its institutions for many decades, and a modern civil State free from confessionalism and quotas.
The formation of governments in Lebanon is usually subject to numerous political considerations and balances. These balances may be among the major causes for repeated failures and for not allowing many projects to reach happy endings.
The resigned government has undertaken many strenuous steps and has adopted important plans and projects. Nevertheless, the problem with it, as with its predecessors, was that its approaches were more political than technical and executive, and the condition of unanimity, adopted by some, prevented reaching many necessary decisions.
Today, we are about to have a new government, and the sole consideration required this time is that this government lives up to the aspirations of the Lebanese, earns their confidence and that of their representatives in Parliament, and manages to achieve what the previous government was incapable of, namely restoring the people’s confidence in their State. Therefore, the ministers must be selected based on their competence and experience and not on political allegiance or to please leaders. Indeed, Lebanon stands at a dangerous crossroads, especially from an economic perspective, and it is in desperate need of a coherent productive government which is not hindered by political conflicts and bickering and which is backed by its people.
As for the fight against corruption, it is a long journey and a continuous relentless action, especially in a country where corruption has been entrenched for years and years: corruption in administration, corruption in politics, corruption in public finance, corruption in some of the society as well…
Yet, no matter how hard the road is, I am determined to move forward with it, and the first step down this path lies in the implementation of existing laws, then the adoption of needed legislations to promote transparency and allow accountability for all. In order not to keep turning in a vicious circle, I reiterate my call to all the Lebanese to put pressure on their representatives in Parliament in order to adopt the following laws: the creation of a special tribunal for crimes committed against public funds, the creation of the national anti-corruption committee, the recovery of embezzled funds, and lifting immunity and bank secrecy off current and former officials and all those who deal with public funds.
As the role of politicians and parliamentarians is to legislate and control, while accountability is for the judiciary, the mechanism to restore rights and embezzled or granted public funds will not bear fruits unless there is an independent, courageous and impartial judicial branch.
There remains your claim for a civil State…
Shifting from the prevailing confessional system to the civil State, the State of the citizen and citizenship, is Lebanon’s lifeline away from the legacies and problems of confessionalism. I hereby repeat what I have already stated during the launching of the “Greater Lebanon Centenary” that “confessionalism is a destructive disease used by the enemies of the nation every time they wish to strike it”, and about “my faith in the need to shift from the prevailing confessional system to the modern civil State where belonging is, in the first place, to the nation and not to confessional leaders” and where “the law is the guarantor of everybody’s rights equally, using competence as the criterion.”
Your voice in the squares, calling for the civil State, is a promising step because the first pillar for the civil State is its popular acceptance since it cannot be imposed, and if imposed, it will definitely fail. Therefore, there is a relentless action ahead of you and us to launch a workshop of nationwide consultations about this topic, to convince those who need to be convinced about how important and necessary it is.
My fellow Lebanese,
Today, with the beginning of the second half of my presidential term, I undertake before you:
To pursue the war against corruption through the necessary legislation and the fair and impartial judiciary, away from any selectivity or discretion, and also away from any generalization;
To push towards a productive economy and to benefit from the capabilities and resources of our State, as well as our private and banking sector, to adopt sound fiscal policies and to finance productive projects that generate job opportunities for the Lebanese and curb brain drain and skilled migration;
Not to spare any effort to establish the modern civil State and get rid of confessionalism which is Achilles’ tendon for our nation and our society, noting that the first step in this direction is a unified personal status law.
My fellow Lebanese,
We are in the midst of a critical crisis, but finding our way out is not impossible, and because a government that has the confidence of the Lebanese is a pressing need today, I urge all parliamentary blocs to facilitate its birth, and I call on the Lebanese people to support it because much work and tough decisions lie ahead.
I also address all leaders and officials: As much as the popular and spontaneous claim-driven movements are rightful and contribute to correcting some tracks, taking advantage of a street in the face of another is the most dangerous threat to the nation’s unity and civil peace, and I am confident that no one can bear on their conscience the brunt of the collapse of the temple.
To the youth I say: you have always been the nucleus and beating heart of the great people of Lebanon, and I have always had great faith in you and in the power of change that you represent.
Today, Lebanon is going through a severe crisis, but we are a nation that is not weakened by crises but rather made more coherent and determined to face challenges. Crossing these times is the responsibility of all, so do not let your dreams and choices fall apart before exploitation or abuse.
Long Live Lebanon!”