Nito tweeting on the campaign trail: “Panamanians deserve transparency, thus we should establish mechanisms for the rendering of accounts and audits, and to submit contract addenda to a technical council composed of representatives of the government, of the selected construction company and of civil society.”
In the USA it’s called “executive privilege” and it’s also abused there
Panama has a transparency law, which dates back to Mireya Moscoso times, Law 6 of 2002. By its terms it exempts disclosure of documents and meeting minutes with respect to international matters, state security issues and “sensitive matters.” One sort of thing that it provides must be disclosed is matters “corresponding to discussions or activities related to the approval of contracts.” Things can variously be classified as
When you think about the holes and gates that such generalizations create, you don’t have to do so in the abstract. We have history to guide us and present-day bureaucrats to chide us.
Beyond those general rules there is a catch all – except about contracts – option for an administration to classify “minutes, notes, files and other records or records of discussions or activities of the Cabinet Council, of the President or Vice President of the Republic.” Classification might variously be “public access,” “restricted” or “confidential access.”
Once upon a time the editor, a young guy with long hair who wrote for the underground press and found himself at small Rust Belt city’s council table, had occasion to deal with exceptions to the open meetings customs and laws. Talk about some land that the city needed to buy? Do so in public and watch some hustler snap it up and jack the price sky-high. There are legitimate exceptions that a freedom of information supporter in pubic office will allow if he or she has any sense.
Switching hats, there are things that any journalist with any sense of public service will not publish – things like the identity of a rape victim, or where the Panama Canal’s security cameras are and in which directions they point.
Grant all that, and look at the cabinet council’s Resolution 71 of August 4, 2021 – issued over the signatures not of President Cortizo but Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo and Vice Minister of the Presidency Carlos García is a huge step away from the transparency that Nito promised on the campaign trail.
It’s not only a broken promise. There is precedent to consider, and there are ramifications in the criminal law The same thing was done by the Martín Torrijjos administration when Cortizo was in the cabinet in 2004.
• Odebrecht got its first government contract in Panama during the Torrijos administration, but because of the sweeping 10-year bar against disclosures we don’t know what the cabinet was thinking about the general subject of Odebrecht. The narrow contract discussions we might have had a right to see, but in Panamanian bureaucratic culture restrictions tend to get expanded. The 10-year ban on disclosures means until after most statutes of limitations have run, so proecutors tend not to want to look at matters that they can’t bring to court.
• The state-financed campaign in favor of a yes vote in the 2006 referendum included the harassment of campaigners for the no side, the removal of most public transportation from the streets on election day to suppress voting, manipulation of the corporate mainstream media, public advocacy of climate change denial, the pressganging of canal employees into supporting the proposal – and all the records of presidential, vice presidential and cabinet actions and discussions about these things were suppressed for 10 years.
• It wasn’t just the government contract with a politically connected import company that switched labels on deadly poisonous diethylene glycol to make it look like glycerin, killing hundreds of people. The whole campaign of denial, to understate the magnitude of the disaster and to deny benefits to those affected, surely came down from the presidency and cabinet, but was kept out of the public record.
Panama gets the same sorts of arguments from the current administration that the USA got from the Nixon and Trump administrations. High-level conversations must be kept off the record or else presidents won’t be able to get frank advice, they say. Here we have an extra twist: people in the executive branch don’t have immunity for defamatory things they say like legislators do, and cabinet members ought to be privileged to falsely accuse people of things without consequence.
The epidemic makes things all the worse, which is actually pretty perverse. The nation should be pulling together to confront the COVID-19 plague, but instead too many people have used their political connections to flaunt their misbehavior in everybody else’s faces. Now all the records of everything said at the Presidencia about this will be locked for 10 years, perhaps prolonging political careers that should come crashing down forever right now.
This stuff is nefarious, and yet another example of why Panama needs a new constitution – and a new political culture in which laws and constitutions mean something.
It generally started with public education that tended to teach narrow nationalism rather than proper senses of history and civics. Then came a generation of war, with aims ranging from the absent to the absurd. Now comes an unpleasant reckoning.
People may not want to hear it, but Joe Biden has told us the truth about what happened in Afghanistan.
News media that for 20 years dutifully passed along deceptive press releases, pundits with financial and emotional stakes in perpetual war, hypocritical Republicans and wimpish Democrats — they’d blame it all on Joe Biden. However, this evacuation is not yet over. There is a lot of work to be done and not much time to do it.
Considering the collapse prompted by the Afghan commander-in-chief deserting his post, the US commander-in-chief is playing a bad hand reasonably well. Now Democrats of all factions who have their ounces of wisdom and integrity are standing by Joe — and taking careful notice of who breaks from the ranks and deserts — as the difficult disengagement from a lost and unpopular war unfolds.
It’s time for Americans to summon up a genuine sense of honor and support the nation’s best effort to meet our obligations to Afghans who risked all to fight on the US side.
Darwin and his finches. Graphic montage by the Wellcome Collection.
It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.
Bear in mind…
If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.
Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes.
I do not paint by copying nature…. Everything I do springs from my wild imagination.
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