On the eve of Lebanon’s 77th Independence Day, President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, delivered on Saturday the following address to the nation:
“My fellow Lebanese ladies and gentlemen,
It is the seventy-seventh year of Lebanon’s independence, and unfortunately, this year has been packed with all sorts of crises and hardships that have reflected adversely on the lives of all the Lebanese, whether on their livelihoods, their lifetime savings or the future of their children. Some were affected even more cruelly, having lost loved ones in the worst disaster that has struck the heart of our capital, or due to a pandemic that has invaded the world and is still reaping victims.
Yes, our reality today is not promising; but being aware of the reality does not mean accepting it or giving in to it, for our people are made of resistance to guarantee their right to existence. I am keeping my promise to dig in the rock, no matter how solid it gets, in order to open the road to salvation for the nation.
My fellow Lebanese,
Independence, as per the general concept, means political independence and the country’s emancipation from occupation, mandate, foreign trusteeship, political dependence…but the Lebanese experience states that all of this is not enough for a nation to be independent, because there are many restrictions that turn us into prisoners.
Today, our country is the prisoner of a system of political, financial and administrative corruption, covered by all kinds of legalized confessional, sectarian and social shields, to the extent that corruption has become a culture and a philosophy, having its own preachers, justifiers and defenders.
Our country is the prisoner of a system that forbids accountability, jointly and severally, and provides the necessary pretexts and innovations to bypass laws and obstruct their implementation.
Our country is the prisoner of a rentier economy that has killed production and oriented it towards indebtedness, placing it forcibly in a state of dependence to meet its needs, and in subordination to creditors.
Our country is the prisoner of a judiciary which is shackled by politics and by the predominance of the powerful.
Our country is the prisoner of obstructive vexatious policies that prevent any progress or achievement.
Our country is the prisoner of grudges and demonizing instigation that almost turns its youth into “frenemies”.
Our country is the prisoner of external dictations and attractions and internal subordinations that make independence, sovereignty and democracy empty words.
My fellow Lebanese,
The shackling constraints are many, but breaking them is not impossible if we truly want to build the nation and achieve effective emancipation and independence. Out of obligation of frankness, I hereby tell you that reform and Statehood are subject to your will, express it!
If we want Statehood, it is inevitable to fight corruption because no powerful and active State can stand tall in light of corruption, and this begins by imposing the forensic financial audit, then by passing in Parliament draft and propositions of laws on reform, accountability and financial regulation, on top of which the restoration of looted funds, the special tribunal for financial crimes, the automatic investigation into the financial status of people undertaking a public service…and at least adopting laws that preserve and protect human dignity, most notably the Old-Age Security law.
If we want Statehood, the need is pressing to concentrate efforts on ensuring economic self-sufficiency, granting the required importance to production and its needs, which is the cornerstone in building a national and independent economy; and it goes without saying that there is no real independence for a country whose economy is externally ridden.
If we want Statehood, it is indispensable to free the State institutions from the influence of politicians and poles of reference, so that decisions and appointments would be based on competence, integrity, merit, productivity and unified criteria, which are all available in all confessions.
Last but not least, Statehood, in its most basic components, needs an active and efficient government. Hasn’t the time come yet, under all the current pressing circumstances, to liberate the process of the formation of the government-to-be from attractions and from hiding behind rescue initiatives to deviate from the unified rules and criteria that must be respected and implemented on everyone in order to straighten the formation and functioning of the executive branch? Especially that this government has ahead of it missions that are labeled as immediate, urgent and rescue-oriented, most notably launching the workshop of pressing structural reforms, rebuilding Beirut and healing its wounds, developing the financial recovery plan and embodying it in laws and implementing decrees.
My fellow Lebanese,
Three months and a half have gone by since the disaster of the Beirut Port blast, and Lebanon and the world are still waiting for the outcome of the investigation. With all due respect to the confidentiality of the probe which is imposed by law and to the independence of the Judiciary, I – from my position – call for its acceleration, with no rush, because the Lebanese, and in particular those who were directly hit by the calamity, notably the wounded, the parents of the victims and the right holders, are entitled to know the results: first to unveil the truth, criminalize the culprit and exonerate the wrongfully accused, and second to free the rights of the affected.
Evidently, the investigation should include all the aspects of the disaster and not be merely confined to administrative responsibilities.
My fellow Lebanese,
Amid the challenges that we are faced with and that surround our country, it is imperative to affirm that Lebanon holds on to its full sovereign borders, and hopes that negotiations on the demarcation of the Southern maritime borders will bear fruit, whereas Lebanon will recover all its rights, pursuant to international pacts, and the Blue Line will be corrected to fit the delineated, fixed and internationally-recognized land borders.
As for what is going on around us and in the world in terms of drastic international and regional changes and transformations, what is striking therein is the recognition of Israel by many Arab States which marched towards full normalization with it; and this implies, unfortunately, a tacit acceptance of the loss of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Golan, along with an increased frequency of American pressure before the new administration takes office, and a renewed involvement of Russia in the file of the displaced.
These changes will undoubtedly have important repercussions on Lebanon, and it is not up to any official or government to decide solely the policies that ought to be adopted regarding the new reality that requires great solidarity, especially that we are on the verge of deadlines that may change the face of the region.
It is therefore a must to launch a national dialogue to discuss the changes imposed in all political, security and defense sectors, in order to be able to keep up with this phase, whereas all differences are put aside and wills converge to come up, together, with a unified position that fortifies Lebanon and does not allow it to be the sacrifice and scapegoat of greater understandings.
Here I wish to address the Lebanese Armed Forces…
We have an oath in common: for me, the oath of preserving the Constitution, the laws and the country’s independence and territorial integrity, and for you, the oath of defending and protecting the nation. At this stage, your role is pivotal, not only to protect and defend the borders, but also to safeguard the national unity that many are seeking to undermine. This is your main mission today, and I am fully confident that you will carry it out with utmost faithfulness and commitment.
In turn, I promise you that I will not relinquish any of Lebanon’s rights, nor will I sign any project that does not serve its interest.
My fellow Lebanese,
Lebanon was notified yesterday of the regrettable decision of the forensic auditing firm Alvarez & Marsal to withdraw from the mission that was assigned to it, because the Central Bank has not provided it with the required information and documents which enable it to carry out its work according to the applicable international standards, and because of uncertainty that it would receive them during the remaining period.
The least that can be said under these circumstances is that this is a setback for the logic of Statehood, disclosure, accountability, judgement and transparency, because forensic audit is the gateway to every reform, for it is capable of pointing out the locations of corruption and waste, and identifying the causes of the present collapse and the people responsible for it; it had also been decided that this audit would apply to all ministries, administrations and institutions after the Central Bank, because without it, it would be vain to fight corruption. Moreover, the audit is included in all reform papers, especially the French initiative, and it is one of the prerequisites for getting assistance programs from the International Monetary Fund, the States and the donor funds… Nevertheless – or let’s say therefore – the obstacles and bumps that the audit encountered were numerous, and as it overcame a hurdle, another one – harsher and harder – would emerge, and the interest-driven roadblocks remained raised in its face with a masterful camouflage, till they finally managed to strike this blow to it.
I hereby state it most clearly:
I will not pull out or part with my battle against the endemic corruption in our institutions, although it is currently an unequal battle against a solid system that has been holding the junctions of financial decisions for decades.
I will not back off in the issue of forensic financial audit, no matter what the obstacles may be, and I will take the necessary measures to re-launch its financial track.
I call on the deputies of the nation to fulfill their legislative duty on the basis of which people granted them their confidence.
And I call on the media to fight this battle with utmost honesty and transparency because here is the real battlefield for the fight against corruption.
As for you, my fellow compatriots, I call on you to stand up together, to exert pressure where needed and raise the voice in the right place in view of winning this fight, because this is the fundamental battle to save Lebanon.
Long Live Lebanon!”