Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Participants of the Parliamentary Sitting,
I am here to fulfill my constitutional duty to make an annual review of the situation in the country.
I watch, analyze and react to the developments in all areas of Lithuania's life without waiting for special annual occasions. That is how I understand my mission and the objectives of the President's Office.
Therefore, as I was preparing for this report, I ruled out the traditional approach of overviewing each and every sector in consecutive order.
Neither will I present a list of problems that we face: the economic downturn, unemployment, energy prices, widespread corruption, and faltering structural reforms.
I meet regularly with the people of Lithuania; I talk to politicians and officials of all levels. I am honestly interested in what is happening in the public domain. Therefore, I know that we are well aware of the strains that we are now experiencing.
It might seem that we also know how to remedy them. We intend to create a modern groundwork for economic progress. We plan to invest in research and innovation. We have declared full-scale war on corruption. We are committed to liberating business from bureaucratic constraints and securing our energy independence.
For decades, we keep repeating seemingly magic words that immediate structural reforms are vitally important.
However, in the twenty first year of independence, it seems that good wishes and intentions are no longer helpful. Our optimism and patience are running out. Our faith is fading. We are sinking into disappointment and mistrust of politics, government institutions, ourselves, and our state. From here, it is but one step to helplessness and stagnation.
I am deeply convinced therefore that we have approached a point where conventional statements on the situation, reminders about problems and difficulties, self-criticism or scholarly contemplations about shared responsibility are no longer enough.
We have come to the breaking point. Lithuania is set for change.
I will invite us all to breathe in an air of civil responsibility and political courage. And to admit that we are standing confused because we have lost direction.
After putting out volumes of strategies and programs adorned by hundreds of noble ideas, we have misplaced the ultimate priority. We have spurned the only true measure of our actions: WE HAVE FORGOTTEN THE INDIVIDUAL PERSON.
This fundamental value has been overshadowed by extreme economics at all levels.
Every single problem is attributed to shortage of money.
I know the scope of the global financial turmoil and its actual impact on real economy.
However, I strongly disagree that the economy is the ultimate master. It is a fundamentally wrongful approach which greatly distorts the world outlook, our actions, and results in a belated and painful realization of true values.
Yesterday's economic bubbles were created by unbridled economic egoism. Today's bubble burst and its social consequences have been produced by the rationale of economic superiority.
It is not the lack of money that makes people angry, but the lack of justice and solidarity. I have never approved and will never approve chaotic tax rises. I have requested that a clear mechanism for compensating pension cuts should be put in place. I am committed to see that a fair and reasonable social security reform, still in line for launching, demonstrates respect for the individual.
Let us learn these lessons. Let us review our values and let us revive our ideals.
If we honestly seek to effect real changes in the state, we have to treat the individual as the highest value. We have to hold this principle as a guiding light for all - from top officials, rank and file civil servants to ordinary citizens. We have to make it viable at every step as we prepare projects, deliberate proposals, vote, and carry through the decisions taken.
The individual person must be the first consideration and the only measure of progress across all institutions and policies.
The same goes for foreign policy. We may discuss the techniques and tactics of diplomatic work, but the strategic direction is one and unquestionable. It is the representation of the interests of the people of Lithuania and their goals, the assertion of national dignity on the international arena.
Therefore, the priorities of my presidency are the following:
- continuance of active and well-defined Euro-integration and consistent protection of Lithuania's interests in the European Union,
- the Euro-Atlantic agenda and its implementation as well as active work to strengthen Lithuania's territorial, energy and technological security by using to the maximum extent the opportunities offered by international organizations;
- constructive relations with the neighboring countries, based on mutual respect and benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Only the principle of the INDIVIDUAL PERSON as the highest value will help us find answers to many questions.
Only by making it strong and respected will we channel the energy of the government and the people in positive direction.
Regrettably, an essential part of our national drive is simply wasted today. What we see is turbulent movement with no direction. Its chaotic course leads nowhere or, which is even worse, it leads to confusion. Whenever a commotion breaks out, we ludicrously set up yet another working group to pacify the public and clean up the political regalia, but the end result in most cases is a delay of decisions and still more anger.
I would not be speaking about it if it were an isolated failure of a single institution. However, such situations have become increasingly common.
I specifically do not mention any institutions or decisions because it has become a regular situation.
Its scope and range expose some serious defects of our public life.
First and foremost, it is an obvious deficit of strategic thinking.
Institutions and political parties have become "small Lithuanian duchies" with their own sovereign objectives and interests.
The result of such fragmental and often contradictory activities is a legal environment that is unstable, indistinct and unreliable - an environment created already in the process of legislation that has no clear strategic purpose.
If a draft law is produced without a definite vision, it will most probably provide only temporary and sectoral solutions.
In the stage of its coordination, the wishes of other sectors will be taken into account and it will be further supplemented by derogations and exemptions. Then the process will be invaded by lobbyists and their completely new proposals. In such conditions, a comprehensive legal impact assessment is impossible to make. But it is nevertheless possible to make backstage agreements. Therefore, last minute proposals will find their way into the law. Very soon it will become apparent that they have distorted the initial idea and concept, introduced controversial provisions, and opened the back door for interests that are not declared openly.
Such is our daily, long-term experience, sufficient enough to start improving not only the laws, but also the legislative procedure. Let us build our plans and projects on clear-cut strategic foundations; let us abandon the last-minute, delaying tactics that have become standard practice.
It is time to start thinking wider and seeing further that tomorrow's headlines.
The work of the Government could be streamlined if the tradition of pushing the ideas of individual ministries were replaced by the practice of discussing new concepts extensively, collectively, timely and, what is most important, strategically.
If changes in corporate taxes are proposed, it is necessary to assess their impact on the economy and the labor market. If there are plans to increase personal taxes, focus should be made not only on the budget indicators: those responsible for social security should also analyze how the social welfare will be affected. If tax incentives are suggested for this or that business branch, we need to hear the opinion of the competition authorities. The officials working with finances must also state their viewpoint. This is particularly important today when we are on a tense budget. It will be just as important tomorrow when many proposals for tax incentives and exemptions are put forth on the eve of local elections.
I am quite sure that some proposals will be innovative and forward-thinking. But I also know from personal experience that others will be specially tailored for the election campaign. Therefore, they will have to be considered carefully, responsibly and expertly, and under the guiding motto: "The Individual - The State - The Future".
I am convinced that this guiding principle would have saved us from a number of mistakes and legislative defects of the past several years. It can help us find a reasonable balance in our future decisions. I strongly believe that it is the only dimension that can serve as a reliable cornerstone for restoring the relationship between the individual and the state - a relationship which surely needs our special attention.
However, this relationship has been deeply affected by a serious crisis never seen before in re-independent Lithuania.
This statement of mine is based not only on public opinion polls indicating that nearly 80 percent of people in Lithuania no longer trust political parties, politicians and public institutions. In other words, people have no confidence in the state. The pessimistic polling results are confirmed by the irrefutable fact that more and more citizens choose not to vote. By their own decision, they are renouncing the right to participate in the governance of their state.
And surely that is not because timidity, indifference or clichéd Lithuanian submissiveness are part of our national identity.
That is certainly not so.
Let us recall the 1992 referendum on the Constitution. To the astonishment of international observers, seventy five percent of the voters come to the polling stations despite the heavy snow fall that disrupted traffic and power supplies.
They came because they believed that their vote could make a difference.
Let us remember the celebration of Independence this spring when thousands of people gathered to witness their living love for Homeland.
Or the recent environmental campaigns which brought together crowds of young people with strong belief that they can make Lithuania clean and beautiful.
It is all the more painful and shameful that the same people do not believe that they can also clean up Lithuania by voting.
They no longer believe that a change of political colors in parliament or the local municipality will bring about real change in the country or in their personal life. They no longer trust the rightists, leftists or political newcomers who have also disappointed them. They have lost confidence in the government, politicians and politics. This sounds a serious warning bell for all political parties who have enclosed themselves in narrow party shells and forgot that their fate is in the hands of the voters, not the other way round.
As I reflect on the flow of emigration, I do not think about it as merely an economic phenomenon, rather a reflection of the relationship between an individual and the state.
The decision to leave your homeland is a difficult one. But the number of those who decide to take this step is growing, and more and more Lithuanians are contemplating this possibility. We console ourselves by saying that it is but a natural consequence of the downturn.
But the countries where our fellow citizens emigrate are also challenged by the crisis, unemployment, social vulnerability, and uncertainty. And it is not only those without a job who are leaving.
So let us look the reality in the face and admit that people are emigrating not only for economic reasons. They are moving abroad because they feel aliens at home.
Today's political culture and morals make us question the possibility of working for the good of the Lithuanian people, not for the benefit of a political consortium or interest group.
Let us give an honest answer to ourselves, not from a podium or in front of TV cameras.
Let us do it and start changing ourselves and our life. "To serve the Homeland, democracy, and the welfare of the people of Lithuania" - are these not the words of the oath that you and I have taken?
So let us turn these meaningful words into meaningful work.
Let us take concrete action to achieve real and important results for the people.
Today we are especially concerned about economic stagnation and the resulting unemployment. We are talking about it every day. But if our concern is true and honest, we must acknowledge that the immediate budget will not support large financial injections to accelerate the economy. We know that we cannot make the tax burden much lighter. So let us do what we can: let us ease bureaucratic obstacles.
Let us improve the competition environment. By ensuring equal and fair conditions for all market participants and by curbing the self-will of monopolistic interests, we will protect honest businesses and the consumer.
Let us develop and promote the approach that IT PAYS TO BE HONEST. Fair and transparent businesses must have our trust. Let us create conditions to allow small business people in the shadow zone to provide for their families, straighten up, regain confidence, and start working legally with dignity and self-respect.
I have mentioned the devastating decline of civil engagement and its causes: disappointment and loss of trust. We will need a lot of effort and time to restore public faith. Small steps are already being made in this direction. For example, the conditions of employing young people for the first time in their careers have been made easier. Such people-oriented proposals should be given a status of special priority and we should be making more of such decisions.
There is work that can be done in every area. Let us do it and things will become brighter.
For this to happen, we do not need to write new programs. We do not need budget investments amounting to billions. All we need is coordinated and streamlined action.
Let us finally make the political system more open to the public and non-party citizens. Let us also make political parties more open to new faces, viewpoints, ideas, and democratic decision-making. Together we will send a message that the voice of the people is important and their participation in the life of the state is not only possible, but also awaited.
We are talking extensively about corruption.
We analyze its roots and project its consequences. We are indignant and angry. Last year alone, more than 700 pre-trial investigations into corruption were initiated. But only every second case reached the court. Only one person was actually sentenced for abuse of power. No one was convicted for bribes.
I will make no comment. It would be both senseless and absurd. I will put forth several concrete proposals:
First, a civil servant who abused his position for personal gain must be dismissed and the possibility of his return to office should be examined very carefully. We have no right to put the public interest at risk by readmitting those who treat civil service as a tool of enrichment back to office.
Second, all unlawfully acquired personal assets must be subject to confiscation. We must talk to those who prize wealth more than duty and honor in a language that they are capable of understanding.
Third, heavier fines should be imposed for corruption and economic offences to deter those who think only in terms of "Is it worth it or not". I have already submitted the relevant amendments to the Penal Code and I am asking you to support them.
Fourth, I have proposed to prolong limitation periods. In this way, we would prevent offenders from escaping the punishment they deserve. It will also speed up pre-trial investigations and judicial proceedings because prolonged "illness", absences and other delaying tactics will no longer pay off. The proposed amendments are already in the Seimas. Please do not put off their deliberation and adoption.
I hope that the Seimas will no longer delay and will pass as soon as this year the law on lobbyism and the code of conduct for civil servants - both greatly important to counter corruption. It is difficult for the public to believe that politicians are set to fight corruption when such serious decisions are held back year after year.
Only personal intolerance against corruption will eventually wipe it out.
Finally, the courts of law. They play a very special role in fighting corruption.
What is more, it is the courts that are conducive to establishing a new quality relationship, based on mutual trust and confidence, between citizens and the state. Such a relationship is impossible without reliable, justice-serving courts.
Regrettably, today people see the courts in a different light. Experts in law point to their evident shortcomings. The courts are criticized by the judges themselves.
The system has become overly bureaucratic. It has become arrogant. Court leaders and self-government focus on the academic discourse and own inter-relations. Unfortunately, there is no place left for justice and human grievances in such discussion.
The closed system, which is poorly controlled by the public, tolerates the spread of double standards. Delaying has become a tradition which is making us known across Europe.
So let us open the system to change, new people and new efforts. Let us stop ignoring the popular demand to have society represented more widely in courts of law. Let us consistently keep to the principle of the rotation of justices.
Let us also simplify judicial proceedings. Let us review their functions: many disputes can be settled in pre-trial negotiations. As we help reduce the work load of courts, we will request a judicial performance of the highest quality.
Lastly, the selection of judges and their evaluation, ethics and discipline case procedures. They will receive my special attention because I am convinced that only a corps of competent and devoted judges can serve justice in the name of the state.
The state will be as strong as the faith that people have in its justice. I have in mind not only the letter of the law. I am speaking about comprehensive justice that fully covers social, economic and person-to-person aspects of our life.
It is a mandatory feature of a healthy society. It is a directory for making state-level decisions. It is even more pressing now that we are going through a period of social and economic difficulty.
Even though we have eliminated the threat of financial collapse, we have to be realistic: the situation is fragile and vulnerable. The signs of economic recovery are delicate. The forecast for the immediate future is reserved and moderate.
There is only one definite thing: the state cannot afford to be generous in the several years ahead.
For this reason, it will have to be fair and wise - more than ever.
Under these circumstances the founding values and principles - justice, humanness and, please note my emphasis, responsibility - acquire a very special meaning.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our pathway has been greatly challenging. We can feel either sad or angry about it.
But in exchange for difficulties, we have been offered opportunities as compensation.
I INVITE US ALL TO RELATE TO THE STATE AS "OUR OWN", TO PERCEIVE ITS PROBLEMS AS "OUR OWN", AND TO ADDRESS THEM RESOLUTELY AND CREATIVELY ON OUR OWN!
I INVITE EACH AND EVERY CITIZEN OF LITHUANIA TO VOTE WITH GREAT RESPONSIBILITY, TO PUT FORWARD JUST AND FAIR DEMANDS, AND TO SHOW PERSONAL EXAMPLE!
I believe that we will overcome any crisis if we overcome the crisis of trust and responsibility in our hearts.
Thank you for your attention.
Last updated 2015.02.03 11:46