Legislator Benicio Robinson (PRD – Bocas del Toro) is also head of the Panamanian Baseball Federation (FEDEBEIS), which is funded by the government via PANDEPORTES. This is a bill of lading for the purchase of fabulous invisible bats which have not been located. The scheme is one of the targets of the comptroller’s audits, which the legislature is moving to shut down.
End game for Porcell, Humbert and any semblance of accountability?
by Eric Jackson
Via their record-setting jam-through of Gerardo Solís as the next comptroller general, their public statements and their actions, it now appears that the National Assembly’s leading deputies intend to go on looting the government as before. At the moment the modus operandi is to distract attention whenever anyone asks about what they stole. Thus the most inflammator demagoguery, with a supporting cast of Internet trolls foreign and domestic
The main target at whom the deputies’ venom is now spat is Comptroller General Federico Humbert. He has his political baggage but also has a clear constitutional duty to oversee ALL expenditures of public resources, including by legislators. He gets accused of picking on politicians whose offices he audits.
For his part, Gerado Solís says that he will not be a look the other way and do nothing about corruption that he manages to see kind of comptroller. But the man has a record in public life that led the most flagrantly offending deputies to give him their most enthusiastic support. From a wealthy family, he began his political life as a Norieguista, serving as campaign treasurer for the dictatorship’s failed presidential candidate in the 1989 elections, the nullification of which was a contributing factor to the US invasion later that year. He was the campaign spokesman for the PRD’s Ernesto Pérez Balladares’s campaign in the 1994 elections, and got a job in the Ministry of the Presidency after that. In that post with Pérez Balladares he received a $10,000 check for a training seminar, but has resisted all questions about where and for what this training was. In that administration he served as director of the Social Emergency Fund, where most infamously he burned invoices and other financial records of his time in that office, claiming that this was justified because they were bulky. Solís was then for a brief moment the acting head of the Ministry of Education and then Housing Minister, before being appointed to a 10-year term as Electoral Prosecutor. As Electoral Prosecutor he was there for the 2006 canal expansion referendum, where he helped oversee the use of government funds for the “YES” side only and can be expected to approve a similar practice to rig any 2020 referendum on “constitutional reform.” After his time as Electoral Prosecutor Solís served as Electoral Magistrate until he decided to run for president in 2014. In that election cycle, however, he dropped an independent candidacy and instead ran for vice president on Juan Carlos Navarro’s losing ticket. In the PRD primary for the 2019 presidential election, Solís finished in fifth place with negligible support. The man figured in the diplomatic cables from Panama that came out via WikiLeaks some years ago: see, e.g., https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09PANAMA756_a.html.
Comptroller General Federico Humbert’s and Attorney General Kenia Porcell’s terms end on December 31. Some of the more strident members of the National Assembly are threatening to shorten those terms, but that they will be unable to do without the compliance of the Supreme Court, which would have jurisdiction over any impeachment. The high court is playing short-handed with holdovers and alternates filling a number of vacancies for President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo to fill.
Also in the remainder of this year, the legislature will be making alterations to business groups’ constitutional change proposals, surely to armor themselves against accountability for their actions. They’d have to pass their finished proposal by the end of December, pass it again in January, submit it to the voters in a referendum within six months – or else wait at least six months. Talk now is of a bedsheet ballot of dozens of constitutional change proposals that would confuse the voters and suppress turnout, but we shall see. There are ongoing public hearings, which are drawing party activists and some curious observers. None of the well known advocates of a new constitution are attending these with any hope of making any positive change.
But, given a string of notorious court rulings and the shortened time period, what’s in store on the legal front for the rest of this year?
The acquittal of former president Ricardo Martinelli on illegal wiretapping and theft charges formally gets handed down on August 26 and after that look for appeals to the Supreme Court. There may also be civil lawsuits against Martinelli, or perhaps administrative moves to recover assets from the former president. On the other side of the balance Martinelli threatens to charge the witnesses against him with perjury, which moves will not prosper until a new attorney general takes office next year.
The cases against a number of current and former legislators look set to proceed, but the accused would surly interpose delays until a new attorney general would be in place to drop the charges.
At the end of July the Supreme Court, which had been investigating deputies Athenas Athanasiadis (PRD – Boquete) for putting employees of her family’s chicken company on the legislature’s payroll; Aristides De Icaza (CD – La Chorerra) for writing checks to cash or to imaginary employees from his office account and then depositing the money in his personal account; and Jorge Alberto Rosas (Panameñista – San Felix) for paying employees of his law firm on the legislature’s dime devolved those cases to the Public Ministry. Those investigations had been ongoing since mid-2018 and if the “principle of law” on which Martinelli walked – that evidence developed by the high court and then passed on to a lower court does not count – those matters might get timed out even though the proofs are rather straightforward.
Comptroller General Humbert has filed 11 complaints against other legislators and several employees of the National Assembly. Former legislators’ cases, and those of unelected employees, go to Attorney General Porcell and prosecutors of the Public Ministry she heads. Given time constraints those cases face dubious futures.
Current legislators, and one guy who was defeated for re-election but became a member of the Central American Parliament, have their cases investigated and perhaps tried by the Supreme Court. A change of attorney general would not much affect those but a notorious and long-running non-aggression pact between the National Assembly and the Supreme Court may decide these things. High court magistrates can only be investigated and tried by the legislature, while legislators can only be investigated by the high court and the general rule has been that the two institutions leave each others’ feeding troughs alone.
Meanwhile Humbert, blocked by the current and former leadership of the National Assembly from entering the legislature’s premises to investigate its members’ years-long looting binges, searches up other avenues. For example, looking at the Panamanian Sports Institute (PANDEPORTES) records for their documentation of when legislators stuck their sticky fingers in that till. For example, looking at those bank records on which he can get his hands. Before he goes he is likely to send more stuff on to the high court or the attorney general.