Aoun to diplomatic corps: I am still relying on the good Lebanese to persevere in the fight against corruption

President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, gave Tuesday the following address during his meeting with the diplomatic corps accredited in Lebanon:

“Your Excellency Monsignor Joseph Spiteri,

Apostolic Nuncio and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies the representatives of the diplomatic missions accredited in Lebanon,

I cherish this occasion which brings us together at the onset of every year, as per a long-standing tradition, to exchange greetings for the New Year and explore the horizons of the days to come, along with the accompanying challenges and elements of hope.

As I thank your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio, for your kind words and for the wishes and feelings of affection and solidarity conveyed, in the name of the accredited diplomatic corps, to me personally and to the people of Lebanon, I hope that the New Year brings along peace and wellbeing to you and to your respective States, leaders and peoples.

In this context, I would like to quote the valuable message of His Holiness Pope Francis on World Peace Day. It is remarkable that the Holy Father considers that “peace is a journey of hope”, a common hope among peoples, in the face of wars, persecution and injustice; indeed, hope is at the core of our faith, as we lie in the dust, looking forward to resurrection! If peace is the hope of peoples, this means that it is the very essence of their life. I wish that those who hold the reins of world peace look up to this truth upon making decisions that may threaten peace and stability in various spots of our world.

If, as stated by His Holiness, “the world does not need empty words but rather peacemakers who are open to dialogue”, then Pope Francis is undoubtedly the first and bravest among those needed peacemakers, one who is highly appreciated and deeply loved by all the Lebanese.

Your Excellencies,

Many factors converged, some external and others internal, to generate the worst economic, financial and social crisis that has ever hit Lebanon.

Externally, the world economic crises had a negative repercussion on our economy, in addition to the wars of the neighborhood, which have besieged Lebanon and barred it – and still do – from its vital extension and export markets, significantly affecting its commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. They also gave way to the heaviest crisis on its already weary economy, I mean the displacement crisis which has brought in as many displaced as half of its original population. And to put the cherry on the cake, the financial embargo restricted the money flow from the outside, causing great harm to the Lebanese economy and financial market.

Internally, Lebanon is paying the price of an accumulation of thirty years of wrong economic and financial policies that depended on rentier economy and indebtedness, to the detriment of production, especially in industry and agriculture, in addition to decades-long corruption and waste in the administration.

Since the beginning of this presidential term, the economic and financial situation has been THE major concern. Indeed, the adoption of the oil and gas extraction decrees was placed on the agenda of the first governmental session, a comprehensive national plan was devised and infrastructure modernization projects were adopted, to be funded by the donors of the CEDRE conference. Nevertheless, the plans remained unexecuted.

From a financial perspective, I have strongly strived to bring the public finance back under the umbrella of the Constitution and the Public accounting law. In fact, three budgets were adopted after 12 years of interruption and random unconstitutional spending.

Yes, I have exerted tremendous efforts in quest of economic solutions. Yet, these endeavors did not produce the desired results because the situation was bad and the obstacles numerous. The growing economic pressure has driven people to the streets, upholding rightful livinghood demands and brandishing one request common to all the Lebanese, namely fighting corruption.

The demonstrations presented, especially at their onset, a real opportunity to achieve the desired reform, because they have shaken the confessional and political protectorates and crossed the red lines, making accountability possible, giving strong momentum to Justice which has taken many actions, and enabling the former government to adopt a paper of reforms that would have been otherwise impossible.

Yet, the attempts by some political forces to harness the popular movements dispersed some of them, drowning them into a radicalism of rejection, and jeopardizing their unanimity about the claimed change. Moreover, the rumors spread by some media and some demonstrators derailed the movement, preventing it from correctly identifying real corruption and its perpetrators. I am still relying on the good Lebanese, on the streets and in their homes, to persevere in the fight against.

In turn, the Army and the security forces have addressed this popular movement with great wisdom. Indeed, they have strived to ensure the security and safety of the demonstrators, safeguarding their freedom of speech, while preserving at the same time the freedom of the citizens and their right to move and go to work and home.

Nevertheless, this situation has aggravated the economic crisis and has had a negative impact on the security situation whereas it has led to an increase in the rate of crime of all kinds after we had achieved remarkable progress in bringing it down over the past two years.

The government was expected to see the light last week, but some obstacles have prevented it; and although we do not have the luxury of delay, the formation of this government requires the selection of qualified candidates, worthy of the confidence of both the people and the Parliament, which in turn requires time; what is needed is a government with a specific and swift program for tackling the pressing economic and financial crisis, and countering the tremendous challenges that Lebanon and the whole region are facing. We shall continue to exert all the possible efforts to form the promised government, advancing the higher national interest above any other consideration.

Your Excellencies,

In addition to all the present difficulties, the crisis of the displaced still weighs heavily at all levels, while the international community has not shouldered its responsibility effectively, neither favoring the return, nor supporting Lebanon to mitigate the impact of this displacement; except for some assistance dedicated to the displaced – from which Lebanon only received a small part – coupled with praise for the humanitarian role it is playing, along with political rhetoric about linking their return to the political solution.

We have shown understanding about the causes of displacement and we have extended all the possible cooperation and assistance throughout the years, but today we do not understand the positions pressing to hinder the return, and we have every right to draw a big question mark about this international indifference, especially that I have carried this crisis with me to all the international and Arab fora, explaining its entailed burdens and repercussions for Lebanon.

Amidst this pressing atmosphere, some positive indicators are expected in the near future, when Lebanon embarks on the exploration of its offshore natural resources in its territorial waters. In this context, we reiterate that we hold on to our right to exploit all our oil fields and reject any Israeli attempt to aggress them, as we underscore the necessity to confirm the land borders and delineate the maritime borders, in view of the benefit this has for stability and calm, and in view of safeguarding the rights of Lebanon and the required investment climate.

Your Excellencies,

Although the year 2019 has been wrapped up with a huge crisis, it has been scattered with some international milestones which are significant for Lebanon, on top of which the consecration of our nation as a space for encounter and dialogue among civilizations, religions and cultures, through the vote by the UN General Assembly on the creation on our land of the “Academy for Human Encounters and Dialogue”.

With the upheaval that surrounds us, it is becoming all the more certain that openness, dialogue and getting to know the other are the foundations for building peace and stability and facing the ideas of extremism, isolation and seclusion.

Moreover, Lebanon has been selected to host the regional headquarters of the International Organization of the Francophonie in the Middle East, in a confirmation of our country’s role in its environment and the world. We hope that this office will be officially inaugurated and will launch its activities in Beirut during this year, in coordination with the Organization.

Your Excellencies,

Lebanon has the destiny and the vocation to be a land of peace, dialogue and tolerance. Therefore, it has been imperative to preserve stability and coexistence therein This is why we hold on to Resolution 1701, to international resolutions and to the international legitimacy based on justice, we are keen on recovering our rights and land and preventing settlement in Lebanon, and we are attached to the principle of disassociating Lebanon from the problems of the region, keeping it away from its axes and flames without relinquishing its power and right of resistance, and devising a defense strategy that would promote this opportunity based on mutual understanding among all the Lebanese.

This year, Lebanon celebrates the first centenary of the proclamation of the State of Greater Lebanon. I am confident that this centennial commemoration will constitute a suitable opportunity, despite all the factors of concern and the lack of visibility, to rediscover the role and position of Lebanon, and even more: a favorable opportunity to renew the commitment of all the Lebanese to the challenge of building a country that is worthy of human dignity, and that lives up to its God-given blessing of being a Message, a message that is fulfilled through reflection, action and the will of the sons and daughters of this nation.

Happy New Year

and Long Live Lebanon!

For his part, Spiteri said:

“Your Excellency the President of the Republic.

Allow me, at the outset, to express our sincere gratitude for kindly receiving us, Ambassadors and Representatives of International Organizations, on the occasion of the traditional exchange of greetings at the beginning of the New Year. It is an honour for me to represent my esteemed Colleagues as we address to You and to all the Lebanese People our sincere best wishes of peace and wellbeing for 2020. May this Jubilee Year be a year of renewal for Lebanon!

Your Excellency, I have had the opportunity, just like so many of the Ambassadors here present, to visit several humanitarian and charitable institutions in your beautiful country. Most of them are run by faith-based organizations and welcome everyone without any discrimination. All of them bear witness to the profound solidarity that animates Lebanese society; a solidarity that stems from the heart. We are all impressed by the generosity and the resilience of the Lebanese. Lebanon can truly be proud of its sons and daughters who strive to guarantee necessary care and assistance to children, young people, adults and the elderly, particularly those with special needs.

Most Lebanese, however, are also deeply disturbed by a certain dichotomy in their society due to the scourge of corruption, which Your Excellency has constantly denounced. Such a dichotomy, unfortunately, hinders the State from functioning in an effective manner at the service of all its citizens. Corruption impedes the Government from providing quality education, medical care and social security, water and electricity It also limits the protection and guarantees ensured by an effective rule of law.

We were positively surprised, therefore, by the sincere call for an ethical renewal of the State made by young people during these last three months of protests throughout the whole of Lebanon. The young, joined by the older generations and animated by a fundamental spirit of solidarity, have rallied around the Lebanese flag demanding respect for their inalienable human rights. They are also requesting political, social and economic reforms. They are against corruption. They demand and deserve a better future!

Corruption annihilates solidarity. It poisons our hearts, our thoughts and our actions. It blinds us so that we no longer perceive others as equal in dignity. It induces us to consider them as disposable objects we can use and throw away. It impedes sincere dialogue and the genuine sharing of our talents.

Dialogue and sharing, in fact, are fundamental aspects of solidarity. That is why solidarity can be considered as an antidote to corruption. Dialogue is impossible if we do not consider each other as equals. This fundamental intuition lies at the heart of Your Excellency’s initiative of an Academy for encounter and dialogue, approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 16 September 2019. Please accept our sincere congratulations, Mr. President, as well as our best wishes for a rapid implementation of such a beneficial project at the service of human fraternity in Lebanon and around the world.

No human fraternity is possible without dialogue. The international community, here represented by the Heads of Mission of the Diplomatic Corps and of International Organisations, has been insisting on the need of a sincere and respectful dialogue between political leaders themselves, as well as with all those demanding real change. Dialogue cannot exclude anyone: those in favour, those against, and those who do not wish to take sides. Every citizen has the right to be heard. Any kind of violence, psychological or physical, destroys the possibility of dialogue, as does constantly blaming the other party. Sincere dialogue demands openness, good will and the desire to reach agreement by sacrificing certain positions or stances in favour of the common good. We reiterate today our fervent desire that, through dialogue and the good will of all the parties involved, a viable Cabinet be rapidly formed to implement the urgent and necessary reforms and regain the confidence of all the citizens and of all the friends of Lebanon.

Your Excellency, the celebrations for the First Centenary of Greater Lebanon seem to be overshadowed by the Lebanese thawra, by the financial and economic crisis, and by the problems linked to the formation of a new government. It is not the first time that Lebanon passes through very difficult times. Every calamity seems to signal the end of an era, but it is never the end of history. Lebanese women and men will continue to write new chapters as free citizens of a free country. We are convinced that the Lebanese have the right attitude to discover new opportunities that arise from the present crisis. They are not afraid of the possible wounds that sincere human encounters might cause, because they also believe that solidarity can heal every wound. I would like to pay tribute, on this note, to the role of Lebanese women in society, in administration and especially in the present thawra, as they are not only demanding radical renewal, but are also bearing witness to effective solidarity. May their example inspire all those in authority, particularly in banking and in politics, to be always accountable and to take the right ethical decisions to serve Lebanon and its citizens, above all in this time of need.

Our sincere wishes are that this Centenary may become a privileged occasion to rediscover the fundamental intuition that inspired the foundation of the Lebanese Nation not so much as a gathering of minorities but as a community of free citizens whose inalienable dignity, equality and rights are enshrined in the Constitution.

It is not possible to conclude our address without mentioning the present situation in the Middle East. We are all culturally linked, in some way or another, to this region of the world, which continues to suffer from endless wars and faces renewed tensions. We desire stability and integral human development for all the peoples of this region. Today, we want to encourage all Lebanese to remain steadfast in their commitment to freedom, fundamental rights, democracy and solidarity so that they will continue to inspire hope in the possibility of harmonious coexistence and progress not only in the Land of the Cedars but also in neighbouring countries.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the most sincere best wishes for the New Year, from all the Heads of State of the Nations we have the honour to represent before You. They renew their friendship with Lebanon and their heartfelt commitment to support your wonderful Country.

May the Almighty, in His wisdom and mercy, shower His blessings on You and on your family, as well as on all the Lebanese throughout all 2020, the entenary Year of hope.

God bless Lebanon! May God bless all of us present here.

Thank you.”

Source: National News Agency

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