Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
As we look from a bird’s eye view at Lithuania today, we see that the situation is definitely good. This is the accomplishment of all hard-working and honest people. Thank you all for that.
The first military volunteers who enlisted to serve the Republic of Lithuania with full allegiance and dedication are a clear manifestation of strong commitment to the state.
I affirm that there are many people in Lithuania who stand ready to defend their homeland and its achievements. To continue building with patience the Road of Freedom, no matter what happens.
Step by step, in the spirit of mutual trust and confidence in the future of our country, we have already completed the difficult stretches of national stabilization, security, energy independence, and financial responsibility.
Lithuania has moved up in the Index of Economic Freedom and now ranks 13th among 180 countries.
We have developed a great potential to grow and we are firmly at the doorstep of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – a club of economically strong and reliable countries. Energy independence is already mirrored in decreasing electricity and gas prices.
We are filled with expectations for a better life. The time seems to be as favorable as never before for Lithuania.
However, people are asking politicians, quite rightly, why they do not see the results of economic growth in their everyday lives.
And not only the people. The European Commission too assesses Lithuania’s progress in the past years as limited.
The state is losing its strategic direction – in many areas we are going round and round, stuck in the same routine.
Less and less time and energy is devoted to Lithuania’s future, to strategic decisions and effective structural reforms.
Addiction to nomeklatura privileges is not letting us go. Entangled in the mire of corruption, we are losing the ability to think and act in the spirit of statesmanship.
The moment of economic stability – which can produce a qualitative leap in the development of the state – may be lost if we fail to notice troubling signs.
I therefore invite us to an open discussion about the quality of governance and the future path of our state.
So that we know where we are going and who is going with Lithuania in the same direction.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we cannot afford the luxury to watch how the momentum for national development is slowing down.
Strategic decisions are vital for Lithuania’s success. But so far, only the art of creating working groups has been mastered, with dozens of them still searching for different solutions.
Fourteen ministries have direct authority over 347 institutions; however, according to the reports submitted to the Seimas Audit Committee, 11 million euros was spent last year alone on experts and feasibility studies. The Office of the Government has increased its spending for experts by 35 times.
Regrettably, even after such investments, we have to admit strategic incompetence. We must get back to long-standing recommendations issued by the European Commission and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development:
– reduce poverty and social exclusion as income inequalities are the highest in the European Union;
– reform the pension system as half of all pensioners live on less than 200 euros per month;
– address demographic problems;
– improve tax collection;
– introduce more flexible labor relations;
– develop innovations;
– bring the quality of education in line with the needs of the labor market;
– improve the performance of healthcare sector.
Today, not only international experts, but also non-governmental organizations are ringing louder and louder the alarm bell about the social safety of our people.
It is as if we are living in a war zone. Children are abused, injured and killed in their own homes; every third woman suffers from domestic violence.
Humiliation starts at an early age – every third child is subjected to bullying at school.
Differences in income and lack of concern lead to deepening social exclusion. And no expensive charity flour can cover it up.
Fifty six thousand people are entrapped in the quagmire of addiction; alcoholism has become a real social scourge. In the past four years, as many as 103 attempts have been made to amend the Law on Alcohol Control. Dozens of relevant amendments are awaiting action in the Seimas.
In the absence of effective decisions, the people themselves have started to initiate legal amendments.
Civil initiatives call for an urgent response.
We need an agreement on social safety – just like the one we have on national security.
We need a similar clear action plan, adequate measures, professional coordination and control.
That is why we have come together in a nationwide campaign “For a Safe Lithuania” to protect ourselves against destructive risks. Almost 150 initiatives have been launched in only several months to promote compassion, to help overcome addictions and fight violence, to support adoption and foster parenting, to demonstrate a different way of life, and to inspire others by personal example.
To ensure that our children are safe and happy and to protect the people of Lithuania, we need to pool the resources of all ministries, bring together local municipalities and communities, businesses, arts and culture.
Let us not be afraid to be socially sensitive. To be simply responsive and compassionate.
My call for a Lithuania without care homes has been heard by many people. Active support for foster parenting and adoption has already taken about 500 children out of care homes in the last several years. However, more than 3000 kids are still waiting for a loving family.
From the next year on, children under the age of three will no longer be placed in state-run institutions – if necessary, they will be looked after by professional temporary foster carers.
But let us not stop halfway. And let us not sabotage the decisions adopted.
Like it happened with consolidation plans promised by the Government.
The Ministry of Economy has spent almost 30 thousand euros on the plan to consolidate business supervisory agencies. Eleven working groups drafted legal acts on the basis of this plan.
The finale of the grandiose restructuring process is a total fiasco.
Optimization plans were not implemented in healthcare establishments too. We still have 94 public hospitals even though one third of them are loss-making. The number of hospital beds is higher by 38 percent than the EU average, and one-third of them are vacant in regional areas.
In Lithuania, funding for disease prevention is two times lower than the EU average.
The evaluation criteria for healthcare establishments and measures to reduce waiting times for medical appointment – which I submitted this past September – remain bogged down in the Seimas.
Fear of change and delays in implementing the decisions already made threatens the healthcare system with paralysis.
The result of inaction is that Lithuania’s health indicators are among the worst in the European Union.
We also lack a principled approach to the consolidation of higher educational establishments.
Although the number of school leavers has declined by one-third, Lithuania continues to enjoy the luxury of 45 establishments of higher education and 1800 study programmes compared to the EU average of five universities per one million of population.
We risk becoming an illiterate country with higher education.
We are not worse than any other country that has already restructured its system of education in line with international standards and domestic needs.
However, it took many years, interpretations by the Constitutional Court and a presidential veto only to define the concept of a “student with good academic results”.
A lot of time has been lost, so we will have to act with double force now to put in place what could have been achieved long ago through consistent work.
Time is very pressing in some areas. Last year the Computer Emergency Response Team reported 41 thousand cyber incidents. Until now, however, we do not have a list of critical infrastructure or contingency plans. Some state institutions still use unsafe software. The consolidation of information resources and capabilities – crucial for national cyber security – is moving ahead too slowly.
Today’s situation requires urgent non-standard solutions across a whole range of areas.
The world and Lithuania have entered a new stage of economic development where high technology is changing our lives.
Davos has placed a focus on the fourth industrial revolution. Governments are trying to figure out how to refocus the labor force as five million traditional jobs will be lost to global technological progress.
During twelve years of its membership in the European Union, Lithuania has moved up only one position on the innovation scoreboard. We invest a mere one percent of GDP into scientific research.
Still, the achievements by our specialists make it possible for Lithuania to be qualified as a country of innovation. Our inventions are eligible for the Nobel Prize, we have captured the attention of NASA and we have started the accession procedure to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), one of the world’s most advanced science hubs.
In some areas, our scientists and business people are showing direction which the world should take, but we still lack a coherent national innovation policy.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is constantly reminding us about it since innovations are needed in healthcare, agriculture, transport, energy, education, and across other domains.
Every year we receive comments about the ineffective governance of state-owned enterprises.
Public assets with the value of 9 billion euros and a 40-thousand-strong labor force contribute only 3 percent of GDP to the national economy.
The return on equity in state-owned companies across forestry and transport sectors has dropped considerably.
Forty two unshakeable state forest enterprises operate chaotically and ineffectively.
Unwillingness to reform and inability to communicate with the European Commission by Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways), which has become a state within a state, can cost us not only millions in fines, but also tarnish our national reputation.
The bankruptcy of the Lithuanian Shipping Company has caused international shame and taught a lesson that all state-run companies must have clear criteria and objectives.
Thirty nine state-owned companies do not pay a single euro in dividends to the budget.
Under the guise of national economic importance, they only seek privileges and benefits. Their funds are used to purchase media outlets and they serve as long-term havens for unemployed party members, their wives and in-laws.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Neither Brussels nor strategic partners are responsible for the quality of our state governance and administrative capacity, nor do they owe us anything in this respect.
It is from politicians that we first have to demand sound decisions that meet our national interests.
We are the most pro-European nation. However, we still see Europeanness only as a financial advantage – not as values and responsibility. And we still do not accept Europe’s troubles as our own.
Populist voices that spread disappointment in Euro-Atlantic integration and raise doubts about our common European future, and calls to befriend an aggressor are no less dangerous that the fighter planes of an unfriendly country in our skies.
It is now more important than ever to maintain the direction of anchoring ourselves in the European Union and NATO. That is what I expect from the next Government.
Our search for the best solutions to uphold security has gained us the trust of the European Union and international community, as well as their support in the fields of energy, finance and defense.
Our concerns were heard by NATO allies in Wales, Berlin and Washington, and we believe that they will receive understanding in Warsaw too. Allied headquarters in Vilnius, Germany’s decision to contribute to the formation of a forward battalion in Lithuania, the presence of rotational U.S. forces – these are additional guarantees for the security of us all.
We were an energy island, but we have built bridges to continental Europe via interconnections with Poland and Sweden. We have found support in the European Union for our position on Nord Stream 2, sanctions against Russia and the Astravyets nuclear power plant.
In light of new security challenges and the ongoing aggression in Syria and Ukraine, it is not enough to join assistance or peace missions. We need to be able to adapt national decisions to the changing situation and to see threats way beyond our street corner.
We need to be sure that in case of crisis, the state is prepared to respond in a flash and protect the security of people.
Even after the bloody attacks in Paris and Brussels, counter-terrorism measures are only projected for the future – the Law on Crisis Management has stalled and silence surrounds the Crisis Management Centre.
The country urgently needs a forward-looking migration policy to respond not only to the global crisis, but also to gaps in the labor market. Our people who are looking for a way back home need a guiding hand too.
A survey carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that 40 percent of Lithuanians living abroad are interested in the possibility of returning to their homeland.
In summer, a vanguard of dynamic and innovative people – each engaged in their own way in Lithuania’s life – travels back home. Young Lithuanians who have acquired skills and knowledge in the best universities of the world are coming forward with initiatives for Lithuania’s future. So let’s make it possible to realize them.
Let us not be afraid to open up.
Dear Fellow People,
Let us protect and defend, even more ambitiously, our national gains and potential.
Only if we stay on the path of transparency, competence and integrity will we ensure that the governance of the state is in good hands.
When the political system is no longer burdened by suspicions and when political parties polish and renovate not only their name plaques and front-page faces, the quality of life will improve for all.
It takes time to clean out every corner, but this is an absolute necessity. Dirty money and deals brought to light by the law enforcement have sparked a shock wave, but this is part of a consistent process of cleansing from corruption and oligarchic self-will.
It seemed that the “black accounting” case, which came to signify evasion of responsibility, would give us a new starting point for creating a more transparent political system and send a clear signal to all political forces that non-transparent activities would not be tolerated in this country any longer.
That Lithuania will not share the same path with those who are stealing from the state.
However, nostalgia for the former party funding regime, attempts to delete “trading in influence” from the Penal Code demonstrate that the political system does not want to release its grip on old habits. We see that the law enforcement is working hard to deal with such “traders”, especially now.
Immunity is used as a fig leaf to cover non-transparency and corruption. Interpretations regarding the immunity of members of parliament – sounding at the highest level – compromise the political system even further.
Attempts are made to lower the bar to the lowest ever level. Eventually and inevitably it will result in the emergence of a new-quality politics where no one has immunity from corruption.
We are doing the right thing when turning decisively away from the disreputable practices popularly known as the ‘Vijūnėlė estate’, ‘buy an elephant’ or ‘in-laws and relations’ where self-interests are more important than national interests, where nomenklatura privileges are a supplement to the office, but not a sign of corruption, where errands are assigned by phone to judges and editors, and where trading in influence is a daily routine.
We could complete the turn even more quickly if dissuasive and damage-covering penalties were imposed for corruption offences instead of those averaging only 8 percent of their maximum amount. If the Chief Official Ethics Commission served as a guardian of political morals, instead of being a stain bleacher. If the Central Electoral Commission were depoliticized.
But as those in power understand it now, politicians have only legal responsibility.
The rule of law and interest-free justice are at the very foundation of trust between citizens and the state.
Instead of consolidating it, political parties who find themselves in the focus of law enforcement initiate reviews of court decisions in parliamentary pseudo-commissions.
Meanwhile, parliamentary control of law enforcement institutions is limited to an annual proposal to change the procedure of appointing the prosecutor general.
Eventually, the Constitutional Court puts a hold on such initiatives which are out of touch with elementary legal logics.
The situation can be changed essentially by active and honest voters.
There can be no alternative to voting.
Let us not allow vote-purchasing to plunge the political system into degeneration.
Let us insist from the very start on straightforward answers and competence to deliver good governance.
Those rushing for elections must have knowledge and a clear sense of responsibility so that, later on, appointments are not made from a list of three candidates who are the best among the worst.
So that we know who are those in whose trust we place our state.
It is not accidentally that this year the World Press Freedom Day was dedicated to the right of access to information.
However, in Lithuania we saw attempts to block public access to information from closed court hearings and to prohibit the use of criminal intelligence data when appointments are made to positions of responsibility.
In simpler words, no negative information about those who want to rule the state!
It actually means a desire to rule at any cost and it is a direct road to the criminalization of governance.
The fourth estate stood up in solidarity against the attempts to silence the media and defended the freedom of speech. Still, Lithuania’s ranking has dropped four places in the World Press Freedom Index due to excessive proximity to politicians and businesses.
After political parties have been banned from directly owning and controlling media outlets, roundabouts are found to manipulate information.
But people want to know the truth.
Critical thinking and information literacy are developed by the civilly active Facebook generation.
If one person’s call not to be afraid gathered tens of thousands of people for a freedom picnic, what a powerful voice we could be – being not afraid to speak out.
Dear Fellow People,
It is not only the erosion-threatened slopes of Gediminas Hill that need to be fortified. The foundations of the state and people’s trust in Lithuania also need reinforcement.
Loss of trust and confidence would mean giving up, breaking away and leaving your country to fate.
It is up to us to choose the architects and leaders of the state.
The Road of Freedom commits us to stand together and not to entrust just anybody with the task of building it. This road will lead us to welfare and prosperity, if we work with wisdom and dedication.
I firmly believe that we will commemorate the jubilee of our restored statehood – Lithuania’s centenary – not only by arguing about the place where the monument to national patriarch Jonas Basanavičius should stand, but also by celebrating our fulfilled expectations.
By establishing ourselves as a transparent, European, economically strong, secure, and fair nation for each and every person, we will become a Lithuania of success.
A country blessed with brave, decent and hard-working people committed to the Road of Freedom.
This is the Lithuania I believe in.
Thank you all those who have full faith in Motherland.
Last updated 2016.06.09 10:49