Vilnius, 2 April 2002
Distinguished Chairman of the Seimas,
Esteemed Members of the Seimas,
Dear fellow countrymen,
This year we have commemorated the twelfth anniversary of the re-established Independent State of Lithuania. The years since the historic March 11th were marked by demanding transformations in the public sector and national economy and building of a democratic state. Today, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Constitution, we have an effective democratic political system as well as functioning and growing economy.
Today we can state with full responsibility that a crucial period of consolidation of the Independent Lithuania is nearing completion. I link its completion with the strategic goals of today - Lithuania's invitation to join NATO and conclusion of the accession negotiations for the EU membership. To secure the achievement of these goals we need well co-ordinated action of politicians and society.
Today we must ask ourselves how we shall build our prosperity and all aspects of our life as a full-fledged member of the Western democratic hemisphere. What key objectives shall we set for ourselves while planning a new stage of development of our state?
This new stage will be no less demanding and complex. On the one hand, the number of unsolved problems and incomplete reforms remains high. On the other, we are approaching a new reality posing new challenges and unexplored opportunities. In order to be able to manage our country successfully and independently we shall have to strengthen creative powers of the nation and reinforce the capabilities of the state. Likewise we shall have to achieve greater political and social solidarity.
Even today, all our endeavours should be guided by a vision of a creative Lithuania. A creative Lithuania presupposes cultural and economic openness. It is not feasible to have a creative Lithuania without fair rules of common life that are equally valid for all. It is not possible to see a creative Lithuania without individual initiative and responsibility. The path to such Lithuania unavoidably will be based on the new public agreement on the priorities for our future as well as our national development.
Such agreement was reached on our foreign policy and national defence. But regardless of the success in these areas which was largely determined, most probably, by broad endorsement of all our society, Lithuania faces difficult tasks ahead.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
During the next stage of national development Lithuania must establish itself in the world as a solid and responsible community and as a reliable and constructive power dedicated to the betterment of mankind. These are the attributes that will lead to a successful and active role of Lithuania in the community of Western nations.
After joining NATO and the European Union, we will have to expand and strengthen the broad spectrum of relations with Western nations. Lithuania will have to increase substantially its participation in the development and implementation of the common policy of the North Atlantic Alliance and Europe. Together with other countries we shall build our common house of Europe and strengthen NATO as our security umbrella.
Membership of the European Union will transform our life. We shall act according to the common rules, encouraging us to consult and seek a common agreement. However, this does not mean that someone else will make decisions for us. On the contrary, we shall have to make decisions with responsibility for ourselves and for other nations. We shall seek to create Europe as a community of sovereign states, which respects the rights and freedoms of every individual and each nation.
Common rules will be our rules. And the sense of responsibility will be genuine if the moral foundation of our society is firm and if we share the common values with other European nations.
Having joined the area of collective security, our society will have to restore the undermined sense of solidarity. The collective security of the NATO countries is based on international solidarity and the ability to assume responsibility for the future of our civilisation and our world. To ensure this solidarity in Lithuania, we will need to overcome the existing gaps in our society: high antagonism, exaggerated egoism of our people and social groups, and intolerance of others.
This is a prerequisite condition for our security. Our security in the modern world depends on our contribution to the defence of Western civilisation. By participating in different multinational missions such as peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and military operations, we strengthen global security and, hence, the security of our nation.
Increased professionalism and capability to carry out the international obligations assumed by the state are characteristic of the Lithuanian Armed Forces today. We can justly claim that our Army is an important national security guarantor. However, it is crucial today that we do not stop midway through our progress: we must further pursue and accelerate the modernisation of our Forces.
At the same time we should value the Armed Forces as an important factor strengthening the civic society. Lithuania of the future needs a tight relationship between the Forces and the public based on mutual confidence. Along with professionals our Army will also need conscripts. The state cannot deny its citizens the right to contribute to the defence of the Homeland. On the contrary, it should encourage the use of this right.
In the near future the functions of the Forces should be expanded to enable them, should the need arise, to help the people to address crises and to act effectively together with the national law enforcement bodies, in ensuring the security of the people.
Specific joint projects should allow for a still stronger interlacing of the national security, education and science systems. In individual cases the co-ordination between national defence and social affairs brings benefit. For instance, positioning of a new military unit in an impoverished region may lead to creation of new jobs and speed up economic development.
We should also ensure a most effective use of defence spending - public money should be used most effectively and be subject to more transparent accountability. These requirements are paramount when procuring expensive modern weaponry. It is within the interests of the state that such weaponry is procured through public tender and by insuring fair competition of weaponry suppliers. I believe these are the conditions necessary for the army to become an integral part of the Lithuanian society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have always supported an active foreign policy of Lithuania. I am convinced that an active foreign policy should be also pursued in the future. Our state can and must contribute to the enlargement of democracy and peaceful co-operation around the state and throughout the world. To achieve this, we need to cultivate closer relations not only with foreign public institutions but also with foreign non-governmental organisations.
Lithuania needs broad network of international relations covering business, science, education and culture. The strength of our state lies in its openness.
The Lithuanian diplomatic service can and must act more powerfully in strengthening the economic engagement between our country and the world, in defending the interests of our businesses, in searching for new markets for Lithuanian goods and in attracting foreign investment to Lithuania. Economic relations must become an unquestioned priority of Lithuania's foreign policy. Lithuanian diplomats should work hand in hand with the Government towards the common goal - increased might of our national economy. We do not need new declarations - we need concrete services for our businesses. One of such services might be warehouses for Lithuanian exports established by the Lithuanian customs authorities in foreign countries, the eastern markets in particular.
Rational and pragmatic co-operation with Russia will never lose its significance to us. This co-operation meets our economic interests. Furthermore, its significance increases in the light of accelerating closeness in NATO-Russia relations.
Now and in the future, in the common European area, Lithuania will more intensively develop its strategic partnership with Poland as well as partnerships with Latvia, Estonia and the Nordic countries. I believe that close relations with Ukraine could provide Lithuania with new opportunities to become more relevant in the region. Today, we have to do away with our reticence and sluggishness. We have to assume responsibility to do everything in our power to overcome the old stereotypes in the relations between our neighbours and ourselves.
We, with the help of our neighbours, must strive that Lithuania, having properly developed its infrastructure, becomes a bridge connecting the Central and Northern Europe. These regions can be brought closer together by joint multilateral projects in the areas of transport, energy and other sectors of economy. It is essential to secure political support of the European Union and funding from structural funds for the implementation of such projects.
The future of the infrastructure of our region is much more than an issue of local concern. It will largely determine not only the progress of our own country and that of our neighbours, but also free movement of people in the future territory of the enlarged European Union. The condition of our roads, pipelines and airports will have an impact on the European Union's trade with the East, consequently, on the overall development of the European economy.
Distinguished members of the Seimas,
Lithuania of the future will have to base its life not only on the consensuses reached on foreign and defence policy, but also on common agreements on the crucial areas of home affairs. Already today the political forces of the country must agree on common action to strengthen the democratic foundations of our state.
We have created a functioning democratic political system during the first stage of our national development. Our next task is to expand and reinforce it. We have to strengthen our state fundamentally and establish a stable democratic order that would unequivocally respect and protect human rights and freedoms. These goals must be accomplished to ensure that our nation remains secure and independent.
Last year I emphasised that the State of Lithuania will be strong to the extent of the strength of its political parties, professionalism and honesty of its civil servants and effectiveness of its justice system and law enforcement. The State will be as strong as it is trusted and supported by its citizens.
Our state must ensure equal and fair rules of common life to all its citizens. To achieve it, we must overcome manifestations of oligarchy, "double standards" as well as corruption in politics and our daily life.
No reliable democracy is possible in a country whose citizens have low confidence in political parties, and the majority of the population - in the parliament elected by it. To restore public confidence, the parties have to change their pattern of behaviour and get rid of the stereotypical conduct of the ruling parties inherited form the soviet past.
Can a party count on public respect, if its members become "more equal" among the equals because of the party affiliation rather than individual merits? Is party membership or its support the sole criteria for getting a ministerial post, the job of a school principal or directorship of a distillery or any other state-run enterprise? Can democracy be healthy if the major sponsors of the political parties are corporations and financial groups, rather than the citizens who express their political position and aspirations?
Such deeds distort our democracy and violate civil rights.
I want to draw your attention to the survey conducted last year by the Lithuanian branch of Transparency International. The results of the survey indicate that as many as 76 percent of our citizens strongly support the necessity to fight corruption. However, the efforts of political parties and the Seimas to curb corruption are rated extremely low. Over a half of the respondents believe that the said institutions, like other authorities, are rife with corruption.
Consequently, today only active anti-corruption measures of the parliamentary parties can restore public confidence in party politics.
Distinguished members of the Seimas,
I welcome the National Anti-Corruption Programme that you have approved this year. I will support those measures and spare no effort myself to ensure its effective implementation. The provision of the Programme prohibiting the financing of parties by corporations is of crucial importance to the further development of democracy in our country. I urged Seimas to make this decision during its previous session. Finally, having received your principal approval, I would like to invite all parties to jointly discuss the ways to improve the means of party financing, so that a genuine independence of Lithuania's political parties could be ensured. I believe it would be meaningful to establish a joint audit institution that would oversee on how those financing rules are adhered to. So far, nobody has even been talking about infringements of these rules.
To reduce corruption, we must establish clear and stringent rules regulating political decision making on the disposal and management of public and municipal assets. We must establish clear and strict procedures for the administration of budgetary revenues, which are our taxpayers' money.
In order to receive allocations from the European Union structural funds, we must ensure their transparent and effective management. This seems to be clear. But why is it that no steps have been taken so far to ensure a likewise transparent and effective management of our public funds? Is the money earned through our citizens' work and sweat less valuable than the funds extended to us by others that we can afford to spend them on ill-founded projects, not requiring stricter accountability and assessment of results?
We as politicians bear direct responsibility for establishing, without further delay, a modern civil service system, dedicated to serve our citizens conscientiously and professionally.
Lithuania needs such a system in view of the approaching European Union membership. Indeed, in the near future we shall have to post a number of qualified civil servants to common EU bodies. Therefore we must think about their replacement already today. Lithuania will need competent administrators capable of acting at the state level and defend its national interests. To a large extent, their professional proficiency and integrity will decide whether billions of litas that will be channelled from the European funds into Lithuania will be used with the greatest effectiveness for the modernisation of the country and long term well-being of our people.
No ruling majority will create a stable modern civil service system - its transparent principles of activity should be developed by all the parties of the Seimas by reaching a consensus. In this case, the parties should not be guided by their wish to get better consolidated in power, but rather pursue the civic aspiration of strengthening our state, making it a safer and cosier place for people to live in.
For the civil service to function reliably, its stability is necessary. It is not normal when a new ruling party starts hastily amending the laws and clears the top echelon of government officials. A new party that gets into power a few years later does the same all over again. It is regrettable that last week the Seimas with the support of the majority found it necessary to continue this damaging practice by passing the Law on Government.
Therefore today I repeatedly call on all parliamentary parties to set up a joint working group for fundamentally improving the Law on Civil Service. This law should lay down a more clearly defined individual responsibility of the civil servants for their decisions that cause damage to people and the state. It should establish stricter sanctions for the violation of human rights and corruption. I believe that civil servants who violate the law as well as the Code of Ethics in a serious way should be dismissed from their duties.
On the other hand, incentives for fair and qualified work, as well as showing initiative, should be more clearly provided for in the legislation. Likewise, fair competition among civil servants should become a legal norm. More detailed procedures for recruitment of civil servants should be laid out, including open and impartial tendering procedures that will attract more well educated and competent people to work in public institutions. I believe that the key principles of the Sunset and the Sunrise Programmes should be transposed to the law. I am certain parliamentary approval of these principles would ensure a more user-friendly and corruption-proof civil service.
Certainly, civil service should depend on politicians, since politicians are responsible for establishing the rules and strategic guidelines for public institutions, just as they must demand accountability from such institutions. Still, a reliable democratic order will be never established in Lithuania without clearly defining the scope of competence and responsibilities of politicians and civil servants.
Today, our state lacks timely political decisions on strategic and other issues that require political settlement. On the other hand, Lithuanian politicians too often meddle in issues that can be successfully addressed by people themselves, local authorities or other appropriate public institutions.
Lithuania's road to the future will not be smooth unless our parties produce a more mature policy, with a distinct national character, based on strategic planning and defined priorities. Meanwhile, political decisions must be consistently based on the analysis of contemporary politics, explicitly explained to society and discussed publicly.
For this reason it is vital for our state to follow the example of European countries and provide our party politicians with better conditions for further learning and encourage the parties to establish policy analysis and strategic centres.
I would like to draw your attention to another paradox. The government draws national and regional development programmes not so much because the country and the people need them, but more so because of the demand of Brussels. Indeed, Lithuania has to produce those plans and programmes in order to get access to European Union funds. That is clear. But again the question arises: how can we spend money earned by our taxpayers on the development of plans that were not evaluated by experts and discussed with the people? Why can millions of litas from our budget be spent on a whim of politicians? Shouldn't the case of the Šiauliai free economic zone be the last of many problematic examples of this policy? Even last year I emphasised that the regional and national development plans should be viewed as essential instruments for our nation to grow rather than a formal report intended for submission to foreign officials.
Strengthening of our state also calls for improving the performance of our law enforcement and justice bodies. A couple of years ago, we amended procedures for appointing the Prosecutor General, Head of the Special Investigation Service and General Police Commissioner. The amended procedures demand a common agreement of multiple political institutions on the appointment to the mentioned posts. This step enhanced the independence of law enforcement bodies. However, much work remains. These institutions require guidelines and priorities to ensure current security needs of the state and society.
First, major efforts should be directed to the investigation and prevention of offences like homicide, human trafficking, drug trafficking and large-scale economic crimes as these crimes now pose the greatest threat to our society and national security.
Law enforcement institutions should pay considerably more attention to crimes against children, as well as juvenile delinquency. These problems have a snowball effect. Negligence in addressing them will translate into much graver problems in the near future.
Our state must ensure that activities of law enforcement institutions do not violate rights and freedoms of the individual. In Lithuania, justice cannot be defended by unlawful means. Enforcement institutions should not only take repressive action against charitable organisations and businesses that make use of legal loopholes but also recommend that the Government and the Seimas sew-up the loopholes.
We must accelerate the restructuring of the home affairs system. I hope the present Government will successfully establish a modern civil interior ministry, which will lay foundations for modern social security services. At the same time it is essential that the police activities are independent and void of political pressures.
The new Law on Courts provides greater autonomy to the courts of Lithuania. I am convinced that greater independence of courts will allow them to protect human rights much more effectively. It will enable courts to get rid of the soviet legacy of "telephone right" enjoyed by some politicians. However, courts themselves have to resist corruption and the judges who are not able to do that themselves have to be assisted by the law enforcement.
I would like to point out that independence of courts from the political power does not mean isolation of courts from society. Judges must not become a special caste. Autonomy of courts means, above all, greater responsibility to people. It also means greater commitment to justice.
One of the key objectives of Lithuanian courts and law-making in general is to bring lawfulness and justice closer together. In order to achieve that, both courts and law-makers have to restore a clearly defined scale of values and to adhere to it. The highest value on that scale must be an individual, his life, health and dignity. A country where courts impose a more severe sentence on a home-brew seller than on a trafficker in people is not a pleasant place to live in.
Protection of human rights must be an underlying principle of our courts and all the system of law making. The rights of victims should also be given greater attention. The courts have not fully made use of all the possibilities granted to them in the protection of human rights. Direct application of the Constitution in court practice should become must more frequent. We must be continuously aware of the fact that the European Human Rights Convention has become a constituent part of Lithuanian law.
The Constitutional Court of Lithuania has gained greater weight. The Seimas should consider how to improve the activities of this court. Perhaps a separate statute might be enacted which would provide for a speedier hearing of cases of great public importance. On the other hand, the time has come to establish a clearly defined procedure how and within what time limits the laws and the Government resolutions which had been found unconstitutional should be amended.
I would also like to ask you: is it not high time to grant to people whose rights and freedoms have not adequately been protected by other Lithuanian courts the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court? Isn't our Constitutional Court competent enough to hear petitions of citizens? You have to answer this question, distinguished Members of the Seimas, perhaps by amending the Basic Law of the country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am well aware that civil groups and parties are largely divided on the issues of economic policy. However, we must also seek consensus in this area.
I believe in this domain, like in many others, we could be unified by the vision of a creative Lithuania. We can be united by a shared attitude towards our economy, which is a particularly important area of a nation's creative activity, and understanding that the state has to provide most conducive environment for it.
To develop a more creative economy we need, already today, a closer interlacing of business, science and education. Already today our country has to aim at high-tech sectors of economy, including information technologies, telecommunications and biotechnology.
During this developmental phase our state has achieved two goals: we created a functioning market economy and turned it into an integral part of the global economy. Notably, our economy has been following an upward trend for the past three years.
The next phase calls for elimination of the economic backwardness of the country and creation of a modern economy based on advanced technologies. That is an ambitious goal. To achieve it, we must promptly identify the priority economic areas and direct major investments, like the future support of the European Union, towards them. We would make a fatal error if we ate-up these funds without a clear vision of modernising our economy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 2000, in Lisbon the European Union member states rose to the challenge of transforming Europe into a region of most competitive and dynamic economy over the next decade. The recent Summit of the EU member states and candidate countries in Barcelona addressed ways to achieve this goal. Regrettably, now Lithuania, together with Bulgaria and Romania, is dangerously behind other associate members of the European Union in terms of the level of knowledge economy. Only by taking immediate and tailor-made actions can we bridge this gap. First of all, our government has to improve the co-ordination of the activities aimed at advancement of knowledge society. At present, even several institutions are competing in this area, which leads to repetitive work.
It is about time we started concentrating state and private capital on sectors that offer a higher, though slower, return on capital - firstly, on people and their education. At the same time the state must, without any further delay, embark on the development of knowledge economy as its strategic goal.
Despite great international demand for highly qualified labour force, such economic policy could help Lithuania retain qualified computer specialists and experts in other areas. The skills of such specialists are the most essential ingredient in creating an advanced and competitive national economy. Therefore today we must provide local specialists with good working conditions here, in their homeland, so that we do not have to invite foreigners tomorrow.
Unless we single these areas out as our priorities and start working on them on time, we will remain a country of low living standards, with outdated technologies and a small added value economy.
Therefore it is necessary to review the state investment programme. It needs to be enhanced towards national development priorities. No less important is every effort that the government must take to attract private funds to state investment programmes. Indeed, Lithuania today offers sufficient private funds.
In my opinion, Lithuania's long-term economic development strategy, which is currently being prepared, could give a significant impetus to the new economic policy. All - politicians, businessmen and academics - should allot relevant attention to the critical discussion on the strategy and its enhancement. I believe this strategy will help identify the main development priorities of the national economy and provide for concrete measures of rapid economic growth. More so, I believe the major political parties will manage to reach consensus on implementing this strategy.
One of the most significant tasks that lie before our state today is securing an environment most conducive to business. This is central to attracting further investments into Lithuania's economy and accelerating economic growth.
First and foremost, a favourable business environment implies transparent rules of economic activity that are not distorted by corruption, over-exaggerated bureaucratic restrictions and shadow economy. It implies a sufficiently mobile labour market, professionalism and honesty of the customs and tax administration, and a prudently balanced and stable taxation system. Finally, a favourable business environment implies the state's ability to settle payments for business services on time. Regrettably, today the state's debt to businesses amounts to hundreds of millions of litas.
You, members of the Seimas, can create more favourable environment to businesses today, by working hand in hand with the government, which has your confidence.
Further reform of the taxation system calls for your special attention, as we are currently patching our national system of taxation based on the models of the European Union. It is unavoidable at times. However, it is not always sufficient as the EU members themselves are reforming their own economic policies by improving rules regulating economic activity.
Today individual tax laws are continuously passed and amended. Election promises were forgotten and taxation procedures were changed in the middle of the fiscal year. So far the Seimas has not approved a general concept of national taxation system. Maybe such action would help us understand taxation policy in a broader context and see it as a factor having a significant impact on the national development.
One of the challenges of the taxation policy is to collect revenue provided for in the budget. No less important is to ensure that the taxation procedures do not restrict the progress of fair business, and do not impede economic growth and nor interfere with society's harmonious development.
Today our taxation system must be targeted towards the vision of a modern and creative Lithuania. It must provide conditions for our people to act as responsible and independent citizens and demonstrate initiative and skills of entrepreneurship rather than stand as passive freeloaders. It has to strengthen the financial alliance of business and science: promote private investment into education and scientific research. It has to aid the formation of a modern system of life-long learning, create favourable conditions for the advancement of scientific research, and introduce state-of-the-art technologies.
Reorganising the energy sector will have a decisive influence on the further development of our economy. In this strategic area, we are always short on success. Still, officials, experts and politicians must collaborate to halt this cycle of misfortunes.
The privatisation of Lithuanian Gas must allow us to reap benefits aplenty. We must immediately modernise Mažeikiai Oil Refinery to transform it into a profit-bearing company. We need to liberalise the entire energy system including the introduction of fair competition beneficial to the people of Lithuania.
In order to smoothly decommission the 1st and 2nd units of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant we have to secure the needed financial support of European states. However, Lithuania must not reject an opportunity of being a nuclear state. Our economic independence will be largely determined by our access to different energy resources. At the same time it is necessary to embark on a public factual debate on the future of Kruonis Pumped Storage Power Plant and other national power plants.
Lithuania must no longer be negligent in addressing the issue of implementation of energy transit networks. I hope that at least the present Government will manage to push from the point of no return the strategically significant projects of connecting to western gas transmission pipelines and power bridges.
Road transit will also have a substantial impact on business conditions in Lithuania. Today we have to properly utilise our geopolitical situation. By no means can we postpone transit development activities to a later date: if we wait, international roads will simply supersede us. Therefore our government's number one task is integrating Lithuania's roads and railways into the European transport systems as well as modernising the Klaipėda Sea Port and enhancing its competitiveness. A unified information system must integrate all the types of transport and link them to the common European network. Lithuania, its neighbours and the whole of the European community will benefit from having a modern highway and an up-to-date railway between Vilnius and Warsaw.
The Lithuanian countryside must not be left standing by the road leading to Europe. Its interests must be consistently defended during the EU accession negotiations. Adequate agricultural production quotas should be guaranteed; not only direct aid to farmers should be taken care of but also investments into promoting various businesses in the countryside. What is even more important is to enhance the capacities of our countryside so that it could get the maximum benefit offered by the enlargement and the presence in the common European area. To achieve that we do not have to wrestle with Brussels but rather with our inertia and sluggishness.
Amendments of our Constitution will provide the right to legal entities of Lithuania and foreign nationals, with certain safeguards, to buy agricultural land. This will give further impulses to a credit market in agriculture and will promote more rational land use. It is my hope that the future Law on the Development of Agriculture and Countryside which the Seimas has to pass soon will set forth new instruments of economic regulation which are already in place in the European Union.
I have no doubt that there are a lot of clever and hard-working people in the countryside of Lithuania. With confidence in their own abilities, they will be able to create their welfare in accordance with the common European rules. Moreover, they will strive to reach that goal having trust in their neighbours and working together with them. Both farmers, their self-governance organisations and governmental institutions have to work together in order to make Lithuanian agriculture ready to compete in the opening European and world market. The countryside has to be offered assistance so that it could choose its priorities wisely. The farmers and business people in the countryside have to be provided with contemporary information technologies without which competition is inconceivable.
Concerted efforts will be needed for an efficient use of European structural funds by Lithuanian villages and townships, above all - for the development of various new businesses. Ecological agriculture will definitely find its niche within this new mosaic.
The new challenges will lead to radical changes in the self-governance organisations of the countryside. A time has come to protect one's interests not merely by protests but by active learning and teaching people in the countryside either to take up new ways of farming or to change the type of business altogether. Every effort should be made by agricultural societies and state institutions to give greater emphasis to educational work among the framers and countryside business people. People should be provided counselling and assistance when they have to draw up their business plans, when they design new projects in order to obtain aid from European funds and when developing modern co-operation. We must realise that the Lithuanian countryside will have a future if its future lies in the hands of educated farmers and businessmen who are not afraid to make independent decisions and are not afraid of new challenges. The countryside will have a future if it manages to overcome inertia of the present and if it is prepared to develop new businesses.
In long-term prospects for Lithuania's future, development of Lithuanian forestry should be given serious consideration. After restitution of land to its owners there will be plenty of unoccupied fallow land. This could open excellent opportunities for the development of an eco-business - modern forestry.
My fellow countrymen,
The current period in the development of our State has not been easy. The people of Lithuania have lost the meagre social security that they had during the years of foreign role. Many have not lived to see a system of adequate social security for which they have longed and which can be found in many western countries.
The re-established State engrossed in the radical reforms of its economy was not able to provide any major social guarantees to its citizens. On the other hand, the old model of social security has proved to be ineffective in the conditions of a free market; new models, however, have not been introduced and little is being done to have them in place.
Lithuania is entering a new stage in its development with a heavy burden of unsolved social problems. The chief goal of this new stage is establishment of a modern system of social security, which would guarantee existence in dignity and respect for every person in Lithuania, a system that would ensure a harmonious development of Lithuanian society, free of any social tensions.
This will not be an easy target to achieve if we continue the policy aimed at merely putting out social fires. It will be, in fact, impossible to achieve that goal if we fail as we have failed until now to reach a common understanding between political parties about the strategic social reforms.
Today nobody else but you, distinguished members of the Seimas, have to come to an agreement about the general principles on which the new social policy of the country has to be developed, the principles which would help to strike a balance between a free market and social justice. We should all be guided by a creative vision of Lithuania. Lithuania will become a country of initiative and ingenuity if its system of social security encourages an individual not to expect any favours from the authorities but to assume his own responsibility for his own destiny.
Our social policy will be effective if we manage to develop it on the principles of economic independence of an individual and social solidarity of the society. We have to find balance between these two principles and we must understand that genuine social solidarity will not be possible without an independent individual. More socialism does not always mean that there is more social justice; more often it means manipulation of people by the authorities, more financial chaos, more bureaucracy and corruption.
We must understand that the money which the state allocates from the budget for the social needs of people is not money owned by the government. The government has no right to take money and distribute it as it own asserts. It is the duty of the government to create conditions for its citizens to be able to accumulate their own funds for health care and old-age pensions.
It will take time before we can have such a system in place. At the moment we still need considerable contributions of the working people into the common fund of social security. Without such contributions it will be impossible to pay the modest benefits to the retired people. We have to give the young people an opportunity already now to set aside a portion of their earnings not only for the pensions of their parents or grandparents but also for their own pensions. Such an approach in fact constitutes the essence of the pension reform. I cannot understand why until now the Seimas has been ignoring the initiative of the Government to start this reform. I cannot understand even more why some of the politicians who protect the interests of the poor are against the compulsory accumulation of pensions. I am sure that they know very well that without building this compulsory pension fund the less well-off citizens of Lithuania will not be able to have a better and protected life at retirement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The current crisis in our health system is a natural outcome of our failure to start and carry out the reform at the right moment. Instead of creating conditions for a fair competition of medical services and a consistent introduction of the principle of health insurance, we have spent more than ten years attempting to "improve" the system by bureaucratic means. In fact, we tried to improve socialism. However, the people themselves did not take part in those improvements; the authorities, people in the medical profession and the pharmacists - all of them were concerned about the people's health.
Now we can reap the harvest of such concern. According to a public survey, over 70 percent of our entire population pay for our "free" medicine at clinics or health centres. Many simple medicines in daily use are much more expensive in Lithuania than in other Central European countries.
We shall not overcome the current crisis by resorting to the new bureaucratic measures and patching up of holes in our budget by taking new loans. The health care system needs fundamental reforms - above all, transparent rules of the game not distorted by corruption, either political or domestic. We need rules that would ensure free development of medical services and a better access to them especially in the countryside.
Such rules will start functioning only when a consumer may act freely within the medical system. Such a consumer will go to see his doctor without a notebook of medicines but with a health insurance certificate, with his own "money basket", and he will be free to use services of a private doctor or a doctor working at a state hospital. He would be able to choose either a cheaper or a more expensive medicine.
To make the policy of health care more transparent we should liberalise rather than tighten up the procedure of compensation for medicines.
What the pension reform and the health care system reform lack is the political will of the Seimas and the Government to untangle the web of group interests into which medicine has been caught and to protect the interests of the public.
Political will is also missing in reforming the system of social aid. The system is not effective if poverty persists, children are not safe and a number of young people and young families feel insecure. As the Report "Condition of Poverty in Lithuania" presented by the Commission of Monitoring Poverty has shown the Government seeks not to eliminate the causes of poverty but to soften its impact. More often than not such attempts have negative results. The number of people living from benefits is growing as is the number of people who have resigned themselves to their impoverished existence and who are unable to change anything. Thus by increasing expenditure for social security we shall not succeed in suppressing poverty. Benefits can only help "freeze" poverty as an eternal problem of society.
The main cause of poverty of our people is unemployment. The levels of general, long-term and young people's unemployment in Lithuania are twice as high as in the countries of the European Union. According to the grim statistics, an increase of unemployment by one percent merely dooms about 18,000 families into poverty. People lives may be improved only by fighting unemployment and social isolation. In its attempts to overcome poverty the Government should seek means how to create better employment opportunities. The best policy of employment is to provide more favourable conditions for business and education of the grown-ups.
It is essential to follow the principle that an individual should profit more from living from his pay for work rather than from a benefit. A benefit for a healthy and able-bodied person is needed only to assist him during one or another difficult period of his life. Assistance should make an individual feel that he has to repay the society by some useful work or by his efforts to seek an independent future. Unemployment benefits should be differentiated. Higher benefits should be paid to those people who are engaged in some public works or performing other useful work for the community, for those who are studying and seeking general education or just want to acquire a more competitive qualification.
Differentiation should also be used in giving assistance to families. It should be related to the responsibility of the parents to take care of their children. Those families who are not able to perform this duty should not be given money; they should be provided with services but not the benefits for children; assistance for education of their children should be made available to them - free but compulsory pre-school education, free dinners and even grants given to children of general secondary schools.
The reform of family benefits can no longer be constantly sidestepped. This type of support must be based on means testing as soon as possible. It should become much better "targeted", so that it reaches the most destitute and, what is really important, it should motivate these families to work and take care of the upbringing of their children.
The state as such does not create moral values. But the policies it pursues can either consolidate these values in the society or violate them. This is especially true when talking about social policies. They simply can not be neutral with regard to values because such a neutrality immediately becomes immoral.
Therefore I repeat: already today the state must concentrate special attention on the problems of families, youth, and children. The moral wellbeing of our society and at the same time its prospects of development will depend on how these problems are tackled in the immediate future.
There are almost 19 thousand socially vulnerable families in Lithuania today. About 43 thousand neglected children are growing up in them. The number of such families and such children has doubled in the past seven years. Over two thousand children find themselves without parental care every year. For almost half of them this happens only because of the poverty of their parents. Thousands of Lithuanian families live in grinding poverty. 30 thousand young people in Lithuania are unable to find a job. These figures represent not only painful fates of individual people but also a threat to the stability of our nation's being. This is because the children who grow up in poverty are very often doomed to subsequent poverty in their adult life. The same is true about their own children. It is therefore extremely important to stop in time the poverty cycle, which is gaining momentum.
Considerably greater attention should be given today to children who lack parental care. The initiative by the Minister of Social Protection and Labour to consolidate the Government's efforts in providing better care to such children are welcome. It looks that we will finally have a national children's register. These are good steps. But we should be moving faster.
The restructuring of foster homes should proceed at a greater pace and be more consistent. Provision of pedagogical assistance to private guardians should be started. It is necessary to improve as soon as possible the existing adoption system. In the present times of information it should be transparent and public. It should stimulate adoption and not impede it as, regrettably, is often the case today. Is it possible to justify the fact that, while the number of children in need of care is constantly growing, the number of children adopted by Lithuanian families last year was twice as small as five years ago. If the Government fails to create a reliable system of adoption in the near future through its own means, I am prepared to do it myself by proposing additional legislation to the Seimas.
Joint and co-ordinated work of state, municipal, and non-governmental organisations in providing care to the children is acquiring special significance. The fact that social realities can be counterbalanced by joint effort is best demonstrated by successful activities of institutions rendering assistance to children deprived of parental care. I am glad to be able to welcome here in this hall the people from the "Pastogė" organisation in Kaunas, St. Johns monks from Vilnius who work with street kids, and their voluntary helpers. My heartiest thanks to you and all those who work to save the lives of our children in present day Lithuania.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion of my overview of the country's social problems and the goals we are facing in this area, I have to raise one general objective: the social policies of the state must help today's young people to link their lives with Lithuania and their future with the future of Lithuania. That is why we need compulsory cumulative pension schemes, insurance-based health system, effective systems of education and housing loans. Social policies aimed at young people, families, and the future of the nation must first and foremost be oriented towards employment, housing, and education.
The High Seimas,
Whether Lithuania becomes a creating society will be determined by our cultural policy. Culture, all its provinces, including education, science, the arts, and information are acquiring a strategic importance for the further fate of the nation. Culture has more than once played a decisive role in our history. I believe that this role will remain such in the near future. Today I would even say that the maturity of our civil life, of our democratic state and our ability to survive as a viable and independent nation essentially depends on the development of culture.
One finds the following words in the notes left by archaeologist Marija Gimbutienė: "the Lithuanians are incapable of running their lives democratically, consolidating for the achievement of greater goals because of enchanted powers of destruction working from the inside. The greatest obstacles for the growth of our nation are the ability to measure things only on the scale of their own parish, envy
in a word, a lack of light, failure to crawl out of the serf shell and make headway."
According to this outstanding scholar, "the Lithuanians love their land dearly, but they forget that they are members of a huge world, where an eternal struggle for existence is ranging. One needs to be strong to survive in this struggle. If a nation can't be strong in numbers, it must be in terms of quality. A nation that bemoans its cruel fate and that in the past thousand odd years has only been losing territory and people can be saved only by a great determination to grow stronger, educate itself, and improve culturally. This is needed to gain at least a moral weight in the community of nations."
It is this determination to seek for an ever-greater cultural maturity of the country that should be uniting our political forces and society at large.
In the development of our state up to now we have tended to concentrate our efforts on retaining the creative potential of the nation: educational, cultural, and art institutions. Sometimes, in doing this, we merely maintained their stagnation. The next stage of our development must be qualitatively different: we must take active measures to boost cultural development, to strengthen the creative forces of the nation in a purposeful way. This is the only way for us, as a nation, to preserve and create our national identity in the open world of today.
Our cultural policy must overcome previous insularity and become an integral part of the general policies of the country. Modern cultural policy must cover a huge field of information and everyday life and must lend it a more articulate cultural, value-based dimension. To achieve this it is necessary to move over more consistently from support to institutions to support to creative programmes. It is necessary to concentrate on the spheres that have been and will continue affecting society most, i.e. mass media, telecommunications, and the internet. Our cultural funds should be more purposeful in initiating and supporting the cultural and educational programmes in this area, especially those of them that are aimed at children and the youth.
Incidentally, the time has come to reorganise the activities of cultural foundations financed from the state budget. It is not sufficient to distribute the money coming from the national budget. These foundations, if they want to survive, have to resort to active management, to raising finances from private sources, and to promotion of partnership between culture and business.
A new cultural policy must overcome an artificial contraposition between national culture and information society. It must meet the challenge of modern information technologies by turning these technologies into a powerful instrument for the enhancement of national culture. It is exactly open information society that will be in the foreseeable future responsible for the preservation of authentic Lithuania, her language, and her cultural tradition.
That is why no effort should be spared to speed up the building of information society. What is needed is not only translating into reality the commitment of the Government Program to computerise schools and public libraries but also to ensuring the availability of rich sources of Lithuania-related information. It is imperative that automatic translation tools for translating internet websites into Lithuanian are developed and introduced in the near future.
Information technologies can help us eliminate the cultural isolation of the country's individual regions and strengthen local cultural centres, without whose vitality the whole of Lithuania is sure to slide towards provincialism.
Education assumes paramount importance for the further development of the nation. The draft new Law on Education describes it as "a means of building the future of the individual, the society, and the state" and rightly claims that "education can best perform its mission when its development outpaces that of the society as a whole".
We should recognise the naked truth: our children will not be able to live better if they do not receive a better education than we have. That is why we can not build the modern school on the basis of the reminiscences of the past alone.
In the twelve years of independence Lithuania has overcome the legacy of the totalitarian system and has formed a democratic school capable of granting the young people a much greater freedom of choice. True, this school is not perfect. There is still considerable room for improvement. The present Government, too, has pledged to continue the ongoing reforms by making a commitment in its Program to "expand the diversity of school types" and to create conditions "for acquiring secondary education and vocational qualifications in a variety of ways". This is the right choice of the direction of the reform, approved also by the Seimas.
It is not by returning to the uniform "soviet school", equally compulsory to all, but by creating a diversified network of gymnasiums and specialised schools, and especially focussing on the promotion of technological education that we will be able to ensure that secondary education is achieved by as many Lithuanian young people as possible. After all, last year some sixteen thousand young men and women between sixteen and eighteen failed to participate in any form of education. This amounts to about ten per cent of the total number of teenagers within this age bracket. Lithuanian politicians should be concerned with the fate of these young people rather than with their personal ambitions.
Education in Lithuania should be perceived both as an integral part of national culture and as the basis for our society's economic might and wellbeing. While building our own education system we should be aware of the broader environment around us. The EU member states have recently identified as one of their main objectives the "creation of Europe as an area of life-long learning". At the same time it was recognised that this aim can only be achieved by "radically changing the attitude towards education" and by setting new aims and objectives before it.
We can therefore no longer afford marking time and must project the future of our education. We must set ourselves the task of creating, within a decade, a modern education system, capable of meeting the needs of the development of the nation. This will require mustering up of both the investment of public and private capital and of the future support from the European Union funds.
By the end of this period we must ensure that all the children in Lithuania receive a solid basic education, that all of them continue learning and acquire either secondary education or a vocational qualification. The greater part of Lithuanian young people should seek first stage higher education at universities and colleges and acquire qualifications that would be competitive on the labour market. All the citizens of Lithuania should be granted the possibility of life-long learning, of retraining, and upgrading their skills. Our education will have to consolidate Lithuania's civil community, to guarantee the vitality of national culture and the development of modern economy and, what is of special importance, to ensure employment for the population.
The legal basis for such a system must be provided by the new Law on Education. Specific tasks should be stipulated in the Lithuanian Education Development Strategy, the drafting of which is nearing completion. Both of these documents ought to be adopted on the basis of national consensus. I am emphasising the word "national" because narrow one-party policies have been and will remain short-lived. Such policies will never be able to provide security to the teachers and students. They have never guaranteed and will never manage to guarantee success for the education reform. I therefore call on you, distinguished members of the Seimas, to overcome partisan ambitions and to lay a solid foundation this year for the national education policy.
Among all the other spheres of culture I would like to emphasise the importance of science and studies. The further development of education in general, modern national culture and the country's economy will rest on nothing else but universities and colleges. Therefore already today we should be setting before them much tougher goals, providing at the same time the means necessary for the attainment of these goals.
First of all, we should improve the management of institutions of higher education. The fact that the oldest and largest university in the country can for as long as three years survive without a Rector and not miss one provides a vivid example of the state of present day university management. Higher education establishments and research institutions must be freed from excessive bureaucratic restrictions and from "planned regulation"; at the same time, however, it is necessary to strengthen their accountability to the members of society. Representatives of the public, and of employers in particular, should participate in the management of universities in practice and not just formally. The voice of the students should carry greater weight.
Urgent measures are needed to improve the quality and effectiveness of studies. The universities should move over to self-study methods, implementation of projects, research activities, and closer interaction between the studies and practical activities in a more consistent way. In most cases cutting down the duration of both Bachelor and Master degree studies would make sense. At the same time the teaching of the humanities and social sciences as an integral part of the studies should be enhanced. Without this our universities and colleges will fail to accomplish one of their most important missions, i.e. to develop a modern civil culture of Lithuania.
At the present time we should seek that our colleges become centres of economic and social development in the regions and that our universities turn into international centres of intellectual life. It must not be forgotten that in the open area of education they will be facing an ever-tougher competition from foreign universities in attracting Lithuanian students.
No one else but our higher educational establishments, working hand in hand with the Government, local authorities, and employer organisations will have, in the near future, to lay the foundation for a flexible and open system of adult education that would be capable of ensuring life-long learning possibilities. Already today an urgent effort is needed to promote modular teaching and distance learning, so that studies become accessible to people who live both in Zarasai and Skuodas.
Lithuania should be increasing and not decreasing the number of persons participating in various forms of education. It is of particular importance to create favourable conditions to study for young people. I should like to take this opportunity to remind you, distinguished members of the Seimas, that the amendments to the Law on Higher Education adopted by you recently may considerably worsen the conditions of studies. Therefore I am appealing to you once again to improve this law so that the interests of young people seeking education are not violated this autumn. I believe that, at least in the case of Bachelor studies, they can be made accessible to a much greater number of students already now.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have presented to you an overview of the common tasks facing us. They are not easy but they are definitely attainable.
All of us, as a national community, are standing at the beginning of a hopeful section of the road that promises plenty of new opportunities. Let us therefore not mark time; rather, let us push forward. This is the time to consolidate the creative powers of the nation, so that we are able to determine our future ourselves and that fortune smiles upon us and upon Lithuania.
Chairman of the Seimas,
Distinguished members of the Seimas,
We can all see the paradox of Lithuanian politics: only those parties that lose power and find themselves in opposition agree to discuss the idea of a national consensus. How long can this last?
We still have a year of joint work in front of us. We can act together in strengthening the foundations of Lithuania's future.
I will be grateful to each and all of you if we succeed in doing this together.
President of the Republic of Lithuania