Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s Speech at the Order of Engineers

November 16, 2000


I have experienced arbitration in public commercial and constructional contracts, here and abroad. Arbitration in engineering contracts was not known on a large-scale two decades ago. Therefore, I find your joint training course beneficial to lawyers and engineers and all professionals involved in construction in Lebanon.

Lebanese legislators recognize the importance or arbitration and its role in facilitating conflict resolution in favor of all involved parties. That is why they promulgated the necessary laws that suit the complications of modern contracts on one hand and facilitate conflict resolution on the other.

But laws governing arbitration need updating and improvement to cope with modern developments in the world where arbitration is playing a key role in resolving commercial conflicts.

It also seems that the Lebanese law does not provide for arbitration in contracts between the government and the private sector. I believe that some countries, like Egypt, have passed clear laws in this respect, thus ending disputes over the matter in favor of arbitration of contracts the involve the government. The reason public sector companies behave nowadays like their parallels in the private sector.

Regarding arbitration in Lebanon, I would like to say that if you have specific suggestions, please present them to the government. We are ready to discuss any proposal in the presence of the specialized minister. I can also discuss these proposals with you. We all want to develop Lebanon’s legal system and make more flexible and accurate in the arbitration field.

We believe that arbitration is very important. We also believe that the country needs this system and needs to develop it. I urge you again to use your good experience in this domain to present us with proposals that are capable of enriching Lebanon’s laws in this respect.

Following PM Hariri’s statement, the following discussion took place between him and the audience:

Q – The Institution of Measurements and Specifications needs support. Will you support such institutions that have been frozen since 1968?

A – The government believes in openness. It wants to encourage industry and qualitative agriculture. Both need to abide by international or similar specifications. The institution must be supported to supervise the production of certificates and make sure that products abide by specifications. We urge you to make suggestions to develop the mechanism of the institution.

Q – Some laws date back to the Ottoman period but are still being implemented. Do we need to develop these laws or appoint more judges? I also would like to suggest the formation of a committee that investigates the issue of dilapidated buildings to avoid future calamities.

A – There is no reason why the Council for Development and Reconstruction should not have a special team that receives complaints about dilapidated buildings.

Regarding the updating of laws, especially those dating back to the Ottoman period, France still has laws dating back to Napoleon’s government but are still valid. This is not an obstacle. The important thing is that laws should be in line with current requirements. Laws are updated according to society’s needs and requirements.

Q – Regarding judicial independence, do you believe we can follow on the footsteps of developed countries where judges are chosen by the people to be independent of the political authority?

A – Systems vary from one country to the other. There is no ideal system. The system you spoke about is applied in the United States. The situation is different in France and Britain. Our laws are close to those applied in France, which is one of the world’s oldest democracies. We always follow on the footsteps of France in our attempts to develop our laws.

The Lebanese judiciary is independent to a large extent. It all depends on the judge. What can a political official do to him? Can he move him from his position? He might but where is the problem? I believe that no political official can pressurize a judge who trusts himself and his conscience. It all depends on the judiciary. But I would like to assure people, judges and all politicians that as long as I am in office, I will not allow anyone to pressurize a judge.

Everyone knows that when I was in power the last time, Judge Philippe Khairallah, then president of the Higher Judicial Authority, openly thanked me for not interfering in judicial appointments. Judges have the right to have immunity against political interference. If a system can give them more immunity, I will endorse it. We are just being close to French laws.

Q – Many lawsuits involving real estates are stuck in courts. I suggest the establishment of a special court to study such cases.

A – We are open to suggestions for updating laws, facilitating people’s affairs and speeding up court work. This is a general responsibility, not just that of the government. We don’t claim to have encompassing knowledge of everything, but we believe that the Lebanese are active. We want to encourage this activity.

Q – How do you corroborate your call for an independent judiciary and your appointment of Minister Fouad Siniora before the judiciary decided in his case?

A – This involves a basic issue that all people advocate. Any person is innocent until he is proven guilty. You seem to suggest that suspects should remain in custody until verdicts are handed down. Your complaint would stand if Minister Siniora was convicted and remained in office. If he is convicted, he will resign to follow up his case. If he is proven innocent, as I believe he is, he will have had his right to live like anyone else.

Q – How long you think you need to solve the economic problem? Some politicians and businessmen have given the government three to four months.

A – What do you mean by solving the problem? Will the solution come abruptly or gradually? We are carrying out some public moves in all directions. If someone believes that we have missed something, let him tell us and guide us. If he is right, we will follow his advice. This is the basic characteristic of the democratic system.

We are planning to decrease tariffs. We heard that the move might decrease revenues. This is true, but we are working on the long-term, not the short-term. We are looking for a role for the country. This requires decisions that may lead to losses on the short-term but will lead to gains on the long-term. After we enacted the open-skies policy, we were told that it would harm the Middle East Airlines. But is the company making profits now? It has been losing for years and burdening the society. Let us open a new means for the society to make profits to make up for these losses. I believe that more landings will increase competition, thus giving MEA more chances to operate its planes and obtain more planes.

Decreasing tariffs will decrease revenues if the economy’s size remains the same. Those who expect fewer revenues actually expect the economy’s size to remain the same. This will not happen unless some other conditions remain the same. We have to break the vicious circle by increasing revenues and encouraging economic growth, which requires measures like the open-skies policy and decreasing tariffs. The new customs law will be revolutionary because it will make Lebanon similar to European countries regarding customs facilities, not just decreasing tariffs. Customs facilities will encourage dealings and more dealings will increase revenues.