Video por la Presidencia.
President’s report to the nation
by Laurentino Cortizo, translated by Eric Jackson
Last July 1 the country we received – and I can’t find a better way to say it – was as if they gave me the keys to a house and once inside they told me: “Sir, you owe a 10-year mortgage, you owe the water and the electricity.” To top it off you realize that the roof has leaks, the refrigerator is damaged, but you also have to pay for the kids’ school, buy groceries at the supermarket, buy medicines, and still move the family forward.
Compatriots, that house, that family, that is the country we received.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to start by thanking God, because, although I haven’t seen him, I always feel him close.
This first Report to the Nation I have divided as follows:
FIRST: Where we come from, the country we receive.
SECOND: The main actions executed in these six months, in accordance with the four pillars of our Action Plan.
THIRD: The Panama of 2024.
Start with the first block – where we come from, the country we received.
In the last 10 years, the debt of Panama, that of all Panamanians, TRIPLED from $11 billion, has increased to more than $30 billion. This amounts to a debt of $22,300 per household.
In the last five years the economy of Panama reflects a clear slowdown and increased unemployment.
The current government received unregistered debts from suppliers, contractors, teachers, agricultural producers, banks, Social Security Fund for $1,738 million.
In addition, in 2018 the previous government overestimated revenues of $1,100 million — that is, they calculated quite badly.
On the other hand, 159 critical public infrastructure projects were unfinished, many for lack of payments, some with low execution, some abandoned, and others embroiled in multiple legal disputes.
I mention some: Amador Guerrero Hospital in Colon, Meteti Hospital in Darien, Bugaba Hospital in Chiriqui, Children’s Hospital and the Hospital City in Panama City, the La Chorrera market, Mariano Bula Stadium in Colon, Juan Demóstenes Arosemena Stadium, the Sports Cities in David and Colon and the Los Pozos de Herrera school.
From the institutional point of view we find a serious deterioration, an executive who disrespected the balance of powers, a democracy distorted by anti-democratic mechanisms, corruption at levels never seen before. Disorganization, improvisation and whims were the behaviors of the previous governments.
On the issue of overall safety, overall we had nothing. We found, as in other areas of government, neither a defined strategy nor inter-institutional coordination.
Prevention, essential to anticipate crime, did not work. An example of this was the Safe Neighborhoods Program.
The security of this country, the security of its neighborhoods, is only achieved with security institutions that align intelligence, technology, organization, discipline, equipment, and a certain mystique, so that everyone knows that their criminal actions will have consequences – and that the consequences will be overwhelming!
Resocialization in prisons has failed. We find a degenerated, permissive prison system, where order and discipline do not exist. That is why we will allocate more resources for well-recruited, well-paid, well-motivated staff; for high security infrastructure, technology and good resocialization programs.
The great challenge of our government and ALL Panamanians is to recover the trust among us, to show that we can do things well.
Panamanians demand an independent justice system with prosecutors, attorneys, judges and magistrates who do their jobs well, who know that you, – like us, the elected and unelected public servants — owe ourselves, not just the country, neither more nor less.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have encountered challenges everywhere. What our government received I will summarize in one word: a disaster.
• Challenges to the domestic economy and the effects of the world economy, imaginary public finances, gray lists on which we were put, the compromised justice system, magistrate positions unfilled, corruption, insecurity for citizens, organized crime.
• Deficiencies in the health system, expensive medicines, abandoned Panamanian agriculture, excessive food imports, the lack of water for human consumption, food production and the canal.
• A poor education system, deficient immigration control, lack of maintenance of public infrastructures, solid waste problems, poverty and inequality, erratic international relations, very little progress in the organization of the 2022 Central American and Caribbean Games and a mess in the Social Security Fund.
The challenge is monumental.
All these challenges come with the presidential sash, which I did not wear today because since July 1, 2019 I have kept it in my heart.
Let me tell you something. Nobody said it was going to be easy. But even with the panorama of which I just informed you, I feel optimistic. This is a great country. We are on the right path. We have a good team, we are on the same page and we know what we have to do.
We are in the process of putting the house in order, the house of all Panamanians.
To start the second block of the report:
I will mention only some of the actions that we have executed or are in execution, over these past six months.
On July 1, 2019, our government arrived with an action plan, with 125 priority actions and the mission to execute them.
I take this opportunity to thank my government team for the effort and work done.
I also thank the National Assembly for the coordination in these six months that allowed us to pass a set of important laws.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Panamanian economy in 2019, according to the latest Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean report, should end with a growth of 3.5%. ECLAC expects a growth of 3.8% in 2020 due to a rebound in the construction sector from various public works projects in progress.
in the pillar of a competitive economy that generates employment of our action plan, the first mission was to start the process of tidying up public finances and creating the conditions to facilitate the reactivation of the country’s economy and generation of employment.
To address the debts — some accumulated for a decade — and to put money in the street, our government completed in just 16 days a bond issue of $2 billion, the most successful in the history of Panama.
In the first six months of government, the following obligations due but not registered, in total $1.738 billion, have been canceled:
• Of the total of $718 million balboas owed to suppliers that provided goods and services to the state, $493 million have been paid and the remaining 225 million will be paid in the first months of this year.
• Our administration also faced debts with the Social Security Fund for $421 million, debts that were accumulated between 2011 and 2019.
• It was also possible to honor the payment of preferential interest to 20 banks for $439 million in outstanding accounts from 2010 to 2019. Interest applied as tax incentives to facilitate the acquisition of homes with a value of less than $180,000. This payment motivates banks to regain confidence, to lend again to reactivate construction and thus generate jobs.
• Additionally, the energy subsidy for $82 million was guaranteed, which guarantees that the electricity tariff does not increase, benefiting almost one million humble Panamanians.
• In addition, the debt of $83 million that the Free Zone maintained with the National Bank for the expansion of the Colon Corridor was canceled.
• We also paid salary obligations owed to more than 36,000 educators in the amount of some $30 million.
• Additionally, we paid $36 million in subsidies to 732 producers of milk, corn and rice.
In just six months have we fulfilled what was promised.
That which has been paid on the above-mentioned figures amounts to $1.584 billion.
In the area of road infrastructure, to reactivate the economy we have 36 projects under execution from December 2019 to January 31 of this year, with orders to proceed and in bidding processes for a total of $877 million.
Of that total, the projects in execution include the nationwide Asphalting your District program for $175 million.
Of the 877 million we have delivered nine orders to proceed with $234 million for the rehabilitation of roads such as: Atalaya-Mariato for 113 kilometers, Pedasi-Cañas for 40 kilometers and La Concepcion-Volcan for 31 kilometers.
Also in just six months we have tendered or are going to tender in this month, other projects. For examples, the road to Fort San Lorenzo, the Gatun-Miguel De la Borda Road and the roads of Chiriqui Grande-Quebrada El Bajo and Chiriqui Grande -Ballena, the design and construction for the Puerto de Vacamonte Highway and the design and construction of the Chumico-Guayabito Highway in the Ngabe-Bugle Region.
In housing, today the Altos de Los Lagos project, Phase Two, begins with the construction of 1,620 homes, with police station, school, green areas, sports area, commercial area, an investment of $110 million.
Also today, January 2, IDAAN delivers an order to proceed, for $60 million, 30 million for the optimization of the system and 30 million more for impact and improvement works at the Chilibre Plant.
In the first 88 days of our government, the Public-Private Partnership Law (PPP) was approved, which seeks to encourage private investment in public infrastructure to ensure a correct distribution of risk between the state and the contracting companies.
Along that line, and with the support of the World Bank, previously contemplated studies are being carried out on projects such as the Metro Cable in San Miguelito and the Corredor Norte in David.
In the first 100 days of government we presented to the National Assembly a bill to reform the Public Procurement Law, which will allow clear rules of the game for investors and will reduce the discretion of public officials.
In our first six months of government, a contribution of $20 million was delivered to the Tourism Promotion Fund for the execution of the international marketing strategy and campaign.
Law 167 was also approved that encourages the promotion of tourism activity outside of Panama City, to create the conditions that generate jobs in the Interior of the country.
Additionally, the Tourist Cabinet was created to align all government institutions that affect tourism development. In these six months we have held six tourist cabinets.
As we promised, the foreign service was redirected to attract investments, promote exports and defend the national economy. To coordinate these tasks, PROPANAMÁ was created and attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As part of our economic recovery plan, we modified the Law of Preferential Interest, which increases the coverage for the purchase of homes up to $180,000, a measure that will positively impact the economy and increase the generation of jobs.
In six months, the commitment to modify Law 4 of 1994 was fulfilled, which created the Special Interest Compensation Fund so that 100% of the FECI returns to our agricultural producers.
In support of the Panamanian agricultural sector and according to the Panamanian campaign with Pride, Consume Lo Tuyo, our government acquired 288,000 hams for Christmas, 100% of national production.
Today I announce the commitment for the Naviferias of 2020 and the Food Solidarity Program, to purchase of 500,000 hams and 200,000 poultry products, purchases 100% of national production.
In these first ix months 100% of the rice sold by the IMA was of national production, because in this government the IMA – YES — is an ally of the Panamanian farmers.
The fight against poverty and inequality is the Sixth Frontier.
In this pillar, our government has undertaken an urgent decision, the fight against poverty and inequality, the Sixth Frontier, through the territorial development strategy that we define as the COLMENA Plan. [Editor’s note: it’s an acronym, but “colmena” means “hive.”]
The commitment of the Colmena Plan is with the 300 most vulnerable areas of our country, corregimientos in Panama of the urban neighborhoods, in rural Panama, and the Panama of the indigenous comarcas.
COLMENA is the alignment of the central government institutions with the Technical Boards, that is, the provincial government with local governments and with organized communities.
COLMENA is a union of forces, it is hope, it is a lever and coordinated action to open trails, solve problems, multiply solutions and move EVERYONE in the same direction.
The COLMENA Pilot Plan was launched on July 9, 2019 and began in six corregimientos of Capira District — Ciri de Los Sotos, Ciri Grande, along wih Angela Chirú, El Cacao, La Trinidad, Ollas Arriba and Santa Rosa.
That day more than a thousand community leaders participated and the result was an action plan with priorities and lessons learned to be applied to the rest of the areas.
In the fight against poverty and inequality we have a working method to reach the 300 corregimientos of the COLMENA Plan, that method is Into the Countryside, and is applied through the Community Work Tours, the GTCs.
Prior to each tour, the organized districts determine their three main priorities and choose a spokesperson, who during the day of the Community Work Tour presents to the central government institutions, the provincial government and local governments their three main needs. That’s called contact with the people.
In this process there is prioritizing, listening and solving. If the priorities are viable, the government undertakes to execute them with the communities. The monitoring is done through our control tower, the Secretariat for Follow-up on Execution and Compliance.
From that experience I can share that, in Panama, today water, roads, electrification and work are still legitimate demands.
How can I share with you this working method?
Because in just six months of this administration eight tours have been made, Toabré in Coclé, Muná District in the Ngobe Region, Los Pozos District in Herrera, Chagres and Donoso District in Colón, Changuinola District in Bocas del Toro, Ciri de The Sotos in Capira, Colón District, Yaviza in Darién and all have been chaired by Nito Cortizo.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Health is a matter of state, and of human rights.
In these first six months, among other measures and initiatives, the effective and sustainable coordination process between the Ministry of Health and the Social Security Fund has been established to guarantee a better service and move from “there is no…” to “yes there is…” in medications.
In addition, by optimizing the purchasing processes through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), just in the acquisition of anti-retrovirals, tuberculosis and chagas medicines we managed to save a total of $8 million.
The Social Security Fund is of all the insured. I reiterate: it will not be privatized and will fulfill its mission and commitment of health protection and financial security.
Regarding the Disability, Old Age and Death Program, as soon as all the financial statements audited by the Comptroller are in hand, along with the Actuarial Technical Report, a Grand National Dialogue will be convened.
To the insured I say, do not have the slightest fear for the future of the Fund.
On July 1 of last year we said clearly that Panama requires the restoration of transparent, reliable and effective justice as the first step towards achieving the rule of law, and law and order.
The appointment of three main and six alternate magistrates was made for the country, fulfilling the commitment to take into account the State Pact for Justice, but additionally, for the first time in our history. those magistrates were evaluated and appointed through a transparent process — professional, without influences of any kind, an unprecedented process.
That decision was widely supported by the different sectors of the country. Nobody sought conditions, or friends, or protection for any magistrate. In the future we will apply the same method and selection criteria to designate the new Attorney General.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have to recognize that the issue of security requires a state policy that goes beyond one administration, because what we did not do 10 years ago is what we are living today, and what we do not do today is what we can be living in 10 years.
Unfortunately, on the issue of homicides, counting the 14 of the La Joyita incident, last year there were 39 more homicides than in the previous year.
But on the issue of the fight against drug trafficking in 2019, law enforcemet broke the historical record of drug confiscations with 80 tons, 10 tons more than in 2018.
Likewise, in our first six months from July to December 2019, drug seizures increased by 12 tons compared to the same period of 2018.
Citizen security will be addressed through a Comprehensive Public Security Policy, which includes 3 action factors: Prevention, Repression and Resocialization.
For these purposes in the first 6 months we have started the development of, among others, the following initiatives:
• In March of this year, the first Internship Academy “Finding the Right Way”, located in Veracruz, for young people at social risk from 12 to 18 years will be starting classes. This academy will serve 300 students who will obtain a bachelor’s degree, in addition to a technical certification, it will have air-conditioned bedrooms, a clinic, classrooms, workshops and sports fields.
• The “First Employment-Learn by Making” program was created by law, a job promotion project that facilitates the first work experience for young people between 17 and 24 years old, high school graduates, university students or with technical training of INADEH through internships in companies.
For this program, the state will provide investment for training and tax incentives to participating companies.
The program also includes a component for entrepreneurship with seed capital and scholarships for outstanding young people and thus contribute to generating jobs for young people.
This month, 392 new officers graduate from the Police Academy, which will serve to reinforce surveillance on our streets.
At the end of this month, 350 new motorcycles for the Linces will be available on the streets.
In addition, our government initiated the training and provision of special equipment to the elite unit called ALFA, a rapid intervention urban force group.
Along that line, and starting this month, the anti-gang operations will be increasing significantly.
By February we will be incorporating 14 drones of wide coverage into surveillance and security tasks.
Also in February, in Colon, the C2 Integral Monitoring Center will be expanded. It will have 400 high-tech cameras, which through artificial intelligence will notify the monitoring staff if any action is required for protection and defense.
To strengthen citizen security and the fight against organized crime in the second half of 2020, the C5 Center for Integral Monitoring, for the Districts of Panama and San Miguelito, will increase from 116 to 3,200 cameras.
Next week our government will present to the National Assembly the draft law that creates the Penitentiary Security Service, a new part of the Public Force, independent of the others, specialized in prison security matters.
The recruitment of all units for this service will be thoroughly evaluated.
(It should be noted that although the penitentiary security function will pass entirely to the Ministry of Security, the rehabilitation function is maintained in the Ministry of Government.)
In some of these cases, due to their sensitive nature, I cannot give more details of the measures and actions that we are and will be taking.
I assure you that I will not postpone the decisions and actions that we must take as a country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For more than 10 years the need for constitutional reforms has been raised, especially for the three branches of government.
I committed myself and complied in presenting to the National Assembly a basic document of constitutional reforms. However, concerns from various sectors of society emerged and were heard.
That is why I requested the Assembly to withdraw the reforms and proposed the United Nations Development Program as a FACILITATOR, for a broad national, inclusive and orderly dialogue, and as Panamanians to strengthen the three branches of government through constitutional reforms – the executive, legislative and judicial.
Notice that in my case I did not need constitutional reforms to do the right thing to appoint nine magistrates and three prosecutors. However, if God gives me life and health, I will only be in this position for 54 more months, so I hope that through dialogue there will be a national decision about what institutions we want, not only for this administration but for the next ones.
I emphasize, “Unite Forces” makes possible the commitment to education. It was, is and will be in the coming years our greatest challenge as a government and as a society.
Changes in education take a minimum of one generation, we have to start them now, otherwise we will continue to deepen the inequality gap in Panama over the next five years.
Look, what we didn’t do in 2009 is reflected in the results of the 2018 PISA test. That test places Panama in position 71 of 79 participating countries. That is, two out of three of our students do not understand what they read and four of every five can not perform basic mathematical operations.
Regardless of ideological slogans or if we are from right or left, we are all Panamanians, but the truth is that the poor quality of education in Panama condemns the humble folks even more.
Our education system is disconnected from the demands and necessities of the working world.
It is time to dignify the profession of the teacher, to train better teachers, it is time for a better teacher improvement system. It is time to teach our students to think, to equip them to solve problems.
One of the most important achievements of these six months of government was the approval by the National Assembly of the Study Without Hunger presidential program. This consists of the purchase of quality national products, to give hot food and proper nutrition to our public school students in vulnerable areas.
For this program, the goal of 500 schools has been established in 2020 to subsequently advance to more than 1,800 schools in the poorest 300 districts in the country, those included in the COLMENA Plan.
• The pilot plan that has the support of FAO benefits more than 1,200 students in Llano Tugri in the Ngabe Bugle Comarca, Rosario Creek in the province of Herrera and the Amelia Denis de Icaza corregimiento in San Miguelito.
• To contribute to the improvement of the teachers, we grant scholarships abroad for professors from UDELAS, the University of Panama, the Autonomous University of Chiriquí and the Superior Normal Institute Juan Demóstenes Arosemena, which are public centers for educator training.
• In this month more than 400 students of the Ngabe Bugle Comarca will receive preparatory courses at UNACHI, so they can opt for careers in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, nutrition and medical technology.
• The Ministry of Education also signed the National Reading and Writing Plan, for book delivery and the building of libraries to encourage the habit of reading.
• This year we will begin the “Panama Academy for the Future” in the City of Knowledge, an educational center of excellence, with a boarding school that will initially admit 100 outstanding 10th to 12th grade students from public schools, providing quality education mainly in English in order to prepare them for admission to the best universities in Panama and the world.
• In terms of educational infrastructure in these six months, 1,244 educational centers were attended.
• Also, in six months of government we have managed to deliver 1,725 scholarships across the country for outstanding students at all educational levels.
• And to give peace and security to Panamanian families, we have delivered 3,279 property titles nationwide, most of them to poor people.
I finish with the third block, The Panama of 2024.
I visualize a more prosperous country, of law and order, but, above all, fair.
With good investments that generate jobs, a reliable justice system, a country with better public safety.
Laying down the foundations of a quality education, for life and work.
I visualize a Panama where there are no untouchables, no privileged, no impunity.
Where government resources are sacred and the administration of justice that acts correctly and does not cover things up.
Governing is a serious matter.
We are going to leave a method of governing, which involves the work of the central government as a team, aligned with the provincial governments, local governments, with organized communities, workers, private sector, professionals, teachers, farmers, producers, a method who looks straight ahead and listens to people, a method of solidarity, participatory work that unites us.
That Panamanians feel that good government can be had.
That Panamanians can recover trust.
That is our vision, that is our purpose.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2024 we will have fulfilled the 125 priority actions of our Action Plan, making significant progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
On that road, no battle, no fight, no adversity, however hard it may seem, will intimidate or defeat us.
I didn’t get here easily, you know, I’m used to the hard fight.
I do not give up, we will not allow the country to lose and we cannot continue to postpone the solutions.
Let’s keep moving forward, working hard, with humility, as a team, with discipline, faith and decision.
I am optimistic, we have achieved a lot in a short time and in difficult conditions.
I have to thank our people for their support and trust.
Friends and friends,
Those who know me know that I am not looking for easy applause.
What moves me is the satisfaction of serving my country, especially the most needy.
For them it is our commitment.
For them we have the historical responsibility of heading towards the conquest of the Sixth Frontier, THE FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY AND INEQUALITY.
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