State of the Nation Address by President Dalia Grybauskaite

Dear Fellow People of Lithuania, Distinguished Participants of the Parliamentary Sitting, I am very much delighted to have the opportunity to once again address you. I view the annual address, which is a moment of special importance to me, not only as a constitutional duty, but first and foremost as an opportunity for all us to take a moment, to pause in our daily routine of problems, conflicts and scandals, and to speak about the issues that can shape the environment for our today and our children’s tomorrow. I am a supporter of constructive words. I speak so that we can translate words into actions and actions into results. That is how I understand the purpose and meaning of the annual presidential address prescribed by the Constitution. Therefore, as I was preparing for our today’s meeting, I decided to take a short look back at the year 2010. So that together we evaluate the fruits of our last year’s meeting. In my first State of the Nation address delivered exactly a year ago, I defined the most painful scourge of our society – dehumanization of the state. I spoke about the most compelling problems that arise from this. I proposed a way ahead – the unconditional superiority of the principle of the individual person as the highest value in all of our activities, planning and decision-making. It was very pleasing to receive so many positive telephone calls, letters and messages from ordinary Lithuanians, state officials, politicians, and political observers. It confirmed that in our country we all feel the same, we perceive problems the same way, and we see the same solutions. It means that we can work together for a common purpose: for the good of the state and the people. It is only if we agree on this ultimate priority that we will stop being undecided and will be able to define a clear direction of unified strategic thought. We will also put the legislative process into proper order. We will make it more transparent, definite and effective. And we will make it work for the people, society and the state – not for some separate agency, a small grouping or an interest group. How far have we made it on this path? I will speak in facts. During this past year, it was twelve times that I returned the laws adopted by the Seimas for reconsideration. I did it because I had to stop alcohol lobbyists in their attempt to fill the pockets of alcohol magnates with a hundred million litas at the expense of the state budget. We, society and the state, would have lost these millions. I also returned the Law on Land and the Law on Land Reform unsigned because I could not allow putting the wealth that belongs to all the people of Lithuania – the land – at risk. Last week, I sent back amendments to the Law on Forests for reconsideration. I could not approve legalizing provisions which would have paved the way for an unpredictable and unmanageable devastation and urbanization of woodlands. So that people would be also deprived of forests, like it happened with Lithuania’s most beautiful lakesides and riversides. It was twelve times – as I have already mentioned – that I had to deal with these and other similar cases of legislation. The Seimas did not overturn eleven of my vetoes, and I hope that the sound arguments submitted with respect to the amended Law on Forests will be heard as well. I have come to the conclusion that if deficiencies are pointed out and rectifications presented, members of the Seimas do not ignore them. It means that cooperation is possible and that it was fruitful, although not always easy and time efficient. Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not intend to only evaluate the situation, to regret the poor progress made or to condemn anonymous culprits. Whatever other areas, but with respect to legislation we cannot afford to wait for another year only to speak about it once again. Therefore, I will be consistent and determined in attaining the results we need – a new approach and a new quality of laws. If a law presented to me for signature is adverse to the interests of society, I will veto it. I will offer constructive solutions which would make our life better and brighter, and would not push people into poverty and despair or force them to go to foreign countries in search of hope. Each time I am presented with a piece of legislation which is custom-made for a particular interest group, which smells of corruption or of plain stupidity, I will personally request to investigate its origins. I will personally enquire in which chain of the legislation process the doubtful provisions were introduced. They say that people need to know their heroes. But they also need to know the wrongdoers, the know-nothings and especially the hypocrites. So we can clean up the civil service. So we can expel those who have come not to serve, but to trade in laws, permits, decisions, and the worst of all, in the trust and confidence that people have in their state. Yes, I am speaking about corruption once again. I spoke about it a year ago – about this dreadful, deep rooted and hardest to treat disability of ours. Let me remind you in a few words: I spoke about its scope and related impunity problems; I informed you that more than 700 pre-trial investigations into corruption were initiated. However, no one was convicted for bribes. So what has changed since last June? The first figure stands the same: more than 700 pre-trial investigations into corruption have been started. This time, however, 18 persons were convicted of corruption: 6 for bribe-taking and 12 for bribery. Is this a victory? Of course, not. First, those who are now in prison are not the only and the last offenders engaged in such activity. I respect the presumption of innocence, but I will nevertheless venture to say that there are more bribe-takers outside the bars than behind them: This is also confirmed by special service investigations and people who have the relevant experience in this area. Second, our objective is to prevent wrongdoing, not to send to prison as many people as possible. I believe that over the year we have made substantial progress in this direction. I would like to thank the Seimas for responding to my last year’s appeal, for supporting my efforts to start a consistent and systematic fight, for approving in principle all of my proposals aimed at creating an environment where it would be not only wrong, but also unprofitable to steal and cheat. The prolonged limitation periods that I proposed and the Seimas adopted will help plug the loopholes to escape deserved punishment. In addition, they offset the delaying legal tactics. I proposed to impose much heavier fines for economic offences, and amendments to this effect have already been passed. We convinced the Seimas to approve my proposed amendments to the Penal Code introducing responsibility for unlawful enrichment and the possibility of extended confiscation of such assets. These amendments have invalidated the shallow and myopic popular doctrine “Not a thief until caught red-handed”. The inability to catch the thief does not make the thief righteous. We therefore granted the state the right to investigate into the origin of unexplainable wealth. The state now has the right to confiscate all of the unlawfully acquired assets, including those fraudulently held by other family members or accomplices. These decisions will not only revaluate the profitability-and-risk ratio of criminal business. They will also offer – and have already offered – new and effective law enforcement instruments. We will soon be able to demand factual results. We have thus sent a clear signal to those who even now are mocking society and the state, sometimes surreptitiously and sometimes quite openly and directly. We warned them: We are not only talking, we are acting this time! We will use all the powers of the state to protect national property and national dignity. And we will place special focus on the ability and efficiency of those who fight crime and corruption: on their competence, professional qualities and, first and foremost, their integrity. I have proposed to amend the Law on Civil Service, the Law on Prevention of Corruption and the Law on Operational Activities. We have made the safety net more stringent so that persons of poor competence and especially of doubtful reputation could not be recruited to those ministerial, municipal, law enforcement or state enterprise positions where proposals are developed and where decision are made. I am convinced that the law enforcement and special services also need a wind of change. I would like therefore to thank the Seimas for supporting my initiative to introduce terms in office for those institutional positions. I believe that it will shake up the system and encourage the professional aspirations of talented and qualified specialists. I am certain that it will help us overcome what until now has seemed impossible to be overcome: the dangerous syndrome of longtime posts which is only a step away from almightiness, impunity and clan-based justice. There is still work to do to make the civil service and the budget-funded sector more transparent, responsible and professional. At this point, I would like to go back once again to my last year’s annual address: to that part where I spoke about the courts of law, about the stagnation, professional degradation and arrogance running in the system. About the immediate need to simplify judicial proceedings and to have society represented more widely in courts of law. I also spoke about the need to open the system to new faces, new approaches and new efforts. I know that in the context of recent public scandals this will possibly sound unexpected, but as I look back at the events and the work of this past year I can say: The ice has broken! The amended Law on Courts created preconditions for engaging society in the process of controlling the administrative activities of courts and judges. We now need to start applying this legal provision in real terms. So that public organizations make active use of controlling rights granted to them. Where necessary, I am ready to support their efforts to join the process of improving the performance of the judicial system. Some time ago, at my own initiative, I signed a decree approving a new judge selection procedure. I know that it has already accelerated the selection process, brought new people of good repute to the judicial team and reduced the workload of judges. Last week I also signed amendments to the Law on Courts similarly aimed at making the judicial system more flexible and at speeding up the judge transfer and selection procedures. It will allow to build a more rational network of judges and to distribute their workload more evenly. The general public will have the right not only to request more rapid but also better quality judicial procedures. The recent wave of judge behavior scandals is shameful. However, it should not drive us to despair. These are old blisters that have been long shielded from public view by the judicial clan. Now they have come out into the open. It means that we are cleaning up. It adds weight to our arguments, not those propagating a closed-door system. Bribes, power abuse and corruption are transactions that involve at least two parties. They can exist only as long as we – the society – tolerate them. The situation is going to change when social discontent reaches a critical point. I am determined and I will do my best to make it happen as quickly as possible. I pledge to consistently support and encourage all civic initiatives targeted at this purpose. The turning point “either – or” is here and now, not tomorrow. Ladies and Gentlemen, We live in a period of time when almost every life zone of the state and society is marked by critical points. It applies to the economy too. It has been some time that we heaved a sigh of relief that we managed to evade financial collapse. We curbed the crisis. We did it even better that some of the European old timers, members of the euro zone. That is good news. Economic growth has considerably exceeded the projected level, reaching an index of almost seven percent – an impressive accomplishment. I strongly hope that everybody in Lithuania will be able to feel it soon. But what is most important is not the record rates of growth, but its sources. Last year our economy grew mostly because of exports, only because people in other countries started to live better and to buy more. This year we see a new tendency – domestic consumption is recovering. Economic expectations are improving. It means that economic optimism is here. Hope and faith are already present. It is now that solidarity acquires a special meaning. So let us not forget those who are in the most difficult circumstances. Let us give our attention to the price of foods that are especially important in a modest consumer basket. Let us find out why they are increasing. It is here that competition regulators have to come in and do their work. Let us have an honest discussion about the minimum wage. We have to be prudent, but not stubborn. We have to fulfill our promise to restore pensions to their previous level. The social system is waiting for real reforms, not paper concepts or guidelines. Let’s support business, especially if it invests in the future, creates jobs and in this way helps the state to translate human expectations and economic development opportunities into reality. I know that we cannot afford to provide either financial support or substantial tax reliefs. But let us do what we can. Let’s remember our plans and intentions: to eliminate senseless restrictions and bureaucratic constraints, to encourage and promote business. Regrettably, it has been a long time that we have heard about the work performed or at least the proposals initiated by the “bureaucracy sunset” and “business sunrise” architects. The economy is gaining momentum and it needs real support now, not in 2020 or 2030. I therefore urge all ministries, services and agencies to streamline their work, future plans, guidelines, and strategies towards this objective. Let us finally fix the heating sector and start building a liquefied natural gas terminal. We have no time for idle talk. Things cannot be delayed anymore! The public procurement process must finally become transparent, and this cannot be delayed either. The people and the state must know what is bought for their money, and why it is bought. I have therefore proposed legal amendments to implement an institutional reform of the Public Procurement Service, ensuring its actual independence and efficiency, and to put an arrangement for adequate publicity in place, which would not allow purchasing organizations to withhold information about the ongoing procurements. It will reduce the possibilities of abuse and set the conditions to initiate administrative proceedings against any persons who have violated public procurement rules and to impose adequate legal sanctions. I hope to have the support of the Seimas in this matter. As the economy recovers, optimism and faith should also emerge in other spheres: in culture, education and the non-governmental sector. I said when I submitted the Guidelines on Changes in Lithuanian Cultural Policy to the Seimas, and I would like to repeat it once again: the state has yet a lot to do to improve the cultural environment, to create conditions for the people to better understand culture as a unifying phenomenon and to become its creators. Everybody must have the possibility to read books, visit museums, theaters, concerts, and watch movies. Culture is not an item of luxury; culture is the guarantor of our unity which is vital for our democracy, togetherness and for Lithuania. I place a strong emphasis on the human element in education. The education system must not only offer knowledge, but it must also be sensitive to the needs and abilities of every individual. It must instill a feeling of self-confidence, togetherness and pride in the homeland. Each and every Lithuanian citizen must feel appreciated and capable of realizing own potential. We will be able to attain the goals we have set only when economic wellbeing, social justice and respect for the human person become an integral and essential part of the strategic objectives and tactical decisions of every government. Ladies and Gentlemen, This year we mark the twentieth anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with many countries. For me, these are very significant anniversaries because I had the privilege of contributing personally to building the Lithuanian diplomatic service and to Lithuania’s first diplomatic steps. The fact that Lithuania is a full member of the Euro-Atlantic community is the most important result of many years of our foreign policy and the guarantor of its continuity. These achievements are further enhanced by Lithuania’s chairmanship this year of two international organizations: the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Community of Democracies. Membership in international organizations and all of the international forums should help us ensure an environment favorable to advancing Lithuania’s most important interests: security, economic wellbeing, energy independence, and good relations with neighboring countries. I am delighted that Lithuania’s active position, which I strongly defended, in developing NATO’s new strategy resulted greater number and more specific security guarantees for the people of our country and for the entire Baltic States region. After seven years of our membership in NATO, we have contingency plans for the Baltic countries. Our consistent efforts led to guarantees that Lithuania’s interests will not be violated in missile defense: NATO will continue its role in defending member states. Europe will not be divided into geographic sectors. Pro-active EU membership is Lithuania’s continued priority. The key achievement of this past period is that by 2015 Lithuania and the other Baltic countries will be brought out of energy isolation from the rest of Europe. This is our ultimate goal which – due also to Lithuania’s active efforts – is now pursued by the whole of Europe. In order to translate it into reality, however, we need to implement vitally important interconnection projects which will link us with Sweden and Poland, and to build an LNG terminal at an earliest possible time. With Lithuania’s active participation in Brussels, the European Union has set itself an objective of making all of the ongoing and planned nuclear power projects fully comply with the highest international standards. The future nuclear facilities in the European neighborhood, including the countries neighboring Lithuania, must also meet these safety standards. A significant number of EU member states are getting together behind this Lithuanian initiative. European economic issues and energy independence are just a few of the areas where our interests match the interests of Nordic countries. Strengthening the Baltic Sea Region remains a key direction in Lithuania’s foreign policy. We are an integral part of the Baltic Sea Region and we have reliable partners here with whom we share the same regional development goals. It is natural therefore that cooperation with Nordic countries in all spheres continues to be top priority. A constructive and stable neighborhood is also greatly relevant to Lithuania’s security. Therefore, the implementation of strategic energy and security projects with Poland is greatly important. Independent Belarus is Lithuania’s interest. I have always supported and will continue to support the path of dialogue and cooperation with neighbors. However, it does not mean that behavior directed against democratic values and human rights can be tolerated. Openness, transparency and continuity are the invariable features of Lithuania’s foreign policy agenda. The Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that we hold this year is based on these principles and they will be at the core of our preparations for Lithuania’s upcoming EU Presidency. My Dear Fellow People of Lithuania, We have embarked on the third decade of reestablished independence. We won freedom, but we forgot that we have to continue protecting it by consolidating democracy each and every day. I firmly believe that we are on the right path; therefore I do not intend to leave it. I see the beginning of change and I will spare no effort to keep the process going. The next year will be easier for the economy of Lithuania. But its political environment will be marked by parliamentary elections. I have strong hope that Lithuania is ready for change and will not give in to populism. I therefore appeal to politicians: I invite you to fight not for power, but for the state – and for the people who are building it through every-day work. So let us restore trust and confidence. Let us build a strong civil society that is resistant to corruption and intolerant to lies. A civil society that has real values and a strong spirit to protect them. Let us create a homeland that nobody wants to leave. A homeland we long for when we are away and yearn to rejoin. Thank you for your attention. Dalia Grybauskait?, President of the Republic of Lithuania