He’s not the president of the National Assembly, but by most measures the man who runs the legislature is the PRD party boss from Bocas del Toro, Benicio Robinson. In party caucus votes he won spots on the Budget and Government committees. In the 2019-2020 session he presided over the Budget Committee and surely would be able to keep that gavel if he wants it. The PRD is a vote shy of an absolute majority in the assembly, but with their MOLIRENA allies they control it. The final composition of the committees depends on whom the other parties put on them, although by assembly rules all 15 of them will have PRD majorities. Once the committee memberships are determined, then each committee will elect its president. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.
Still no legislative committees but they’re set to be in place this week
by Eric Jackson
It’s two weeks since the National Assembly had its annual organizational meeting, but still there are no committees appointed. They’re working on it.
On July 9 the Democratic Revolutionary Party’s deputies caucused to determine who gets assigned to which of the 15 committees. The PRD, although just shy of a majority, controls the legislature and will have a majority on each of its 15 committees.
As usual, highly coveted posts are seats on the Budget, Credentials, Government, Economy and Finance, Canal Affairs, Public Infrastructures and Commerce committees. Credentials wields the power to further or block corruption probes against Supreme Court magistrates, the president and vice president, and government ministers. Most important government appointments – all that require legislative approval – pass though this committee. The other coveted committee assignments in one way or another are where the money is, for the deputies whether it’s the legitimate powers of the purse strings or tawdry opportunities for favoritism or outright bribery.
The most noise this time is about the Education Committee. Its president in the last session, Héctor Brands, wanted another term on that committee. But not only will he not run the panel, his party colleagues kicked him off of it entirely. Ousting Brands for the last PRD spot on that committee was the notorious deputy from Colon, Jairo “Bolota” Salazar. Given Salazar’s brawling intolerance that in one instance drew a rebuke from President Cortizo, critics are pessimistic about any progress in education coming out of the National Assembly over the coming year. But there wasn’t much with Brands in charge, either.
Most legislation requires three votes before being sent to the president – or returned, if it came from the presidency to begin with – for a signature or veto. First reading and vote is in the committee. Then there is a debate and vote on second reading before the entire legislature. Third reading and vote, also by the National Assembly plenum, is usually a formality. When something gets voted down or sent back to committee from the third reading stage, it’s usually due to strong public protests of one sort or another.
Bolota Salazar and Colon’s mayor Alex Lee putting an infamous homophobic rant on video for posterity.
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