|Date: Nov 22, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Aoun promises anti-corruption Cabinet|
|Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Thursday promised the formation of an “efficient” and “productive” government that would fulfill the peoples’ ambitions and aspirations, but he blamed the delay on “contradictions” in Lebanese politics.
Aoun’s speech came as U.S. President Donald Trump said that his country was ready to work with a Lebanese government that “responds to the people’s needs,” according to a cable sent to Aoun marking Lebanon’s Independence Day, the president’s media office said. Trump added that any new government should “respond to the needs of the Lebanese people.”
Shortly after Aoun ended his speech, protesters blocked roads in the Bekaa, the north, the “Ring Bridge” in Beirut and Naameh, south of Beirut, as they did on similar occasions.
Aoun called on protesters, who have staged an unprecedented popular uprising across the country against the ruling political elite, paralyzing life and businesses, to help him in the fight against corruption.
“It’s time for action, serious and relentless action, because we are in a race against time, for challenges are tremendous and dangerous, and we have already lost a lot of time,” Aoun said in a televised speech, addressing the nation on the eve of the Lebanon’s 76th Independence Day.
“The new government that Lebanon awaits and around which hopes are placed was supposed to see the light of day and embark on its work, but the contradictions that govern Lebanese politics imposed imposed prudence in view of avoiding dangers and coming up with a government that would live up to your ambitions and aspirations as much as possible, and would be highly efficient, productive and orderly, because the challenges ahead are huge and the deadlines imminent,” Aoun said.“It’s time for action and the government-to-be will find me ready to accompany its work and willing to push forward for the fulfillment of achievements,” he added.
Aoun’s speech comes as Lebanon edges closer to economic collapse and remains without a fully functioning government after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 under the pressure of snowballing street protests, leaving the country with a caretaker government. Thursday was the 36th consecutive day of the national uprising that erupted on Oct. 17.
In his speech, Aoun did not outline the shape of the next government, a contentious issue between Hariri on the one hand, and the president, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, on the other.
With the main political parties refusing to budge on their conflicting positions on the shape of the government, this has raised the stakes as the country risks plunging into a prolonged political crisis with all the negative consequences it entails on its fragile stability and ailing economy.
“Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s declared position is that he is ready to form a new government of specialists that excludes provocative political figures,” Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar told The Daily Star Thursday. “If this position is not acceptable to the other side, let them search for another prime minister,” Hajjar quoted Hariri as saying.
While Hariri, backed by the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, insists on a government of “specialists” or ”technocrats,” a key demand of the protesters, the other parties are pushing for a techno-political government.
Aoun emphasized that widespread corruption in ministries and state institutions, largely blamed for the state budget deficit, was a looming danger threatening Lebanon.
“International settlements do not pose the sole threat on the stability of the state; on the Lebanese internal arena, there is a looming danger that threatens our society, institutions and economy: corruption,” Aoun said. “Fighting corruption has become a tagline, used every time there is a need for it, even by those who are steeped in corruption. Yet, upon the adoption of the slightest execution procedures, confessional and sectarian red lights begin to surface.”
Acknowledging that the anti-corruption campaign is tough, the president asked the Lebanese for help in this battle.
“The battle here is tough, rather one of the toughest. I therefore turned to you, fellow Lebanese, asking for help, because no one else can make all lines available, and no one else can exert pressure for the implementation of existing laws and adoption of the needed legislation to recover the looted funds and pursue the corrupt,” he said.
Aoun praised the protest movement and the media for shedding light on corruption as “healthy and useful.” Nevertheless, he warned against false accusations against innocent people, instead calling for protesters to allow the judiciary to “do its job.”
“The popular movements that have taken place lately have broken some established taboos, toppled the untouchables to a certain extent, prompted the judiciary to act, and stimulated the legislative branch to give priority to a set of anti-corruption bills,” he said. Since the beginning of the uprising, Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim has filed charges against more than a dozen public officials, including former ministers.
Aoun repeated his invitation for representatives of the demonstrators to enter into dialogue with him as the “only correct path to resolve the crises.”
However, thus far, no clear leaders have emerged from the protest movement, which many have touted as one of its strengths.
Addressing the protesters, Aoun said: “You have given momentum to the judiciary, so let it do its job ... And this is where lies your role, judges.”
“What is required of you today is to commit to your oath, to carry out your duty ‘faithfully’ and to be ‘honorable honest judges; because no matter where it begins, the fight against corruption will end well in your hands, and its victory depends on your courage and integrity,” he added.
The president blamed wrong economic policies, corruption and waste in the administration through the decades for the current economic crisis.
“Let the coming year be a year of effective economic independence, through the conversion of the rentier economic pattern into a productive economy, by supporting agriculture and industry, adopting stimulating policies to make our production competitive on foreign markets, and dedicating all the attention to technology and knowledge economy, a sector in which Lebanon can be a serious competitor,” he said.
“Yes, let us make it a year of effective economic independence by starting to drill the first off-shore oil well, and by adopting the law on the sovereign fund which will manage oil revenues, provided that it follows the highest global transparency standards,” he added.
“As for the full-fledged independence, we can only achieve it if we liberate ourselves from confessional and sectarian disputes, and begin with the necessary steps to establish a civil state,” Aoun said.
The president praised the Army’s role in protecting the protesters and ensuring freedom of movement for citizens during the street demonstrations.
“Independence Day cannot pass by without addressing you because you were and you remain the shield of the country, the protectors of its independence and the bulwark of its unity. The toughest missions that a soldier may face are domestic issues, as in your case, whereas you have to protect the freedom of the citizens who wish to express their opinions through demonstrations and sit-ins, and to protect as well the freedom of movement of the citizens who wish to go to work or home.”
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s dollar bonds rallied with the 2032 and 2030 issues both rose by 1.4 cents to 44 cents in the dollar, according to Tradeweb data, Reuters reported.
Berri called the Finance, Budget, Administration and Justice committees to meet next Wednesday to study draft laws related to banking secrecy and the return of looted public funds.