Thank you very much Madame Minister, ministers, colleagues, excellences and ladies and gentlemen. It is wonderful to be here today to launch the joint work between the OECD, us, and Lebanon.
I think every Lebanese citizen knows how important it is to have a government that serves the interests of its citizens and provides comprehensive information about decisions, budgets, and processes.
Information is the lifeblood of any functioning democracy. And what I am going to say this morning really echoes the themes that you already heard from my colleagues, because this is absolutely critical. Without adequate access to information about government policies and programs, citizens, policy makers, and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions. A lack of transparency never improves service delivery, the investment climate, or the nation’s confidence in its elected representatives.
All governments should strive to be as transparent as possible – and this is something that we in the United States are still working on today.
In 1966, the United States Government began answering citizen’s requests for information through something called the Freedom of Information Act, and even today, these requests come to every government agency on a regular basis, and we are required by law – by law – to respond to these requests for information.
In 1993, we added an additional level of transparency to public administration with the Government Performance and Results Act. This mandates standard reporting on public agency financial and programmatic activities.
As was mentioned, Lebanon took the first step toward voluntary disclosure of government information in 2017, when the government adopted the Access to Information Law. This law constitutes an important milestone towards greater transparency, citizen participation, and accountability. But, passing a law is of course just the first step in ensuring access to information, and I am here today to talk about how the Unites States, with our other international partners represented here, is committed to helping Lebanon make this a reality.
Today’s ceremony highlights several interrelated programs. The U.S. is funding the piece called “Promoting Access to information in the MENA Region,” being implemented by OECD. It supports Lebanon’s national action plan for the access to Information Law. The Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform, which is working with the strategic direction of the Ministerial Anti-Corruption Committee and with the OECD, will present a draft plan later today.
And I don’t want to spoil anything or give anything away, but I can tell you that the draft will highlight priority actions and reforms that are needed to make this law, and thus government transparency, a reality.
It is also going to highlight that everyone must take part in this process. That means government, parliamentarians, civil society, municipalities, business and citizens, must all work together to create a culture, a mentality, a mindset of transparency in Lebanon.
We are also very pleased to see that access to information is part of the broader CEDRE reforms and this is going to help the country fight corruption, bring citizens closer to their government, and support an open government culture.
Guaranteeing the rights established under the Access to Information Law and ensuring that citizens and businesses can exercise these rights, is a very important sign of the government’s commitment to reform.
Our support for this program is just one of the things that we are doing to support Lebanon.
Between 2014 and 2018 the U.S. assistance programs have invested over 3.6 billion dollars in Lebanon. We have invested over 1.5 billion in security assistance, over 550 million in development assistance, and over 1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance.
Why are we doing this? And I want to be very clear here. It is not so that the United States can provide basic government services like education, or water or electricity. It is not so the United States can defend the country from external threats.
We are doing this to help Lebanon through what we know has been a very difficult period. There are challenges. We are doing this to buy Lebanese citizens and government officials some space and time to address these issues yourself. The Lebanese are some of the most talented and inspirational people I have ever met on the planet; and I have worked in many countries in my career, and these people succeed, their colleagues succeed, their children succeed all over the world. But, you need to lead – now more than ever. We are here to help, we are here to support, we are here to assist. But initiatives like what we are launching today require your leadership, your initiative, and your commitment. It is definitely time to act, and we are here to help.
Thank you very much.