The cloudburst of public corruption scandals that have appeared in recent months in Panama is, to say the least, appalling. It’s more evidence that crimes, and the attitude and behavior that go with them, are the social scourge of corruption and its inseparable partner, impunity. This calls for a strong public reaction to contain the damage, apply corrective measures and overhaul public service.
The common good, defense of the general interest and service to fellow citizens seem to have been banished from public office. We must act in unison to restore them to public life and to truly improve our social mores. Otherwise we will find ourselves without public institutions and, frankly, without the human resources to be a society.
The lack of enthusiasm for the study of the public sector that has existed in our society and in academia in our country affects every part of our fragile social structure every day. This fact was aggravated from the moment that we took the international responsibility of the administration, operation, conservation, maintenance and modernization of the Panama Canal. We soon lost sight that all is for naught if we have a canal without having a functional country and society.
It is worth recallning here that the concept of the state and its main instrument, the public administration, has a transverse character that overflows the bounds of any single scientific discipline and proves to be a meeting place for political science, law, economics, management theory and sociology.
The transmutation of the “political” and “official” roles has generated an institutional cross-dressing understood as the confusion of roles between politicians and functionaries. In other words, we have politicians who in practice occupy themselves with the roles and skills of civil servants, and civil servants whose practice and comptence is more of a political character. In Panama, this absurd role reversal has no name, but it’s deadly.
La falta de liderazgo del Primer Mandatario aflora en todo el gobierno. Ahora tocó a la seguridad, un problema prioritario — para el resto de la ciudadanía….
El diputado Gabriel Soto Martínez (quien habitualmente toma la iniciativa en áreas en que los demás Panameñistas prefieren pasar agachados) abordó en el Pleno la poca productividad de los millones “invertidos” en la Policía Nacional. Pero es triste que, cumpliendo con el control del Legislativo sobre el Órgano Ejecutivo, el joven e idealista líder comunitario de Arraiján sintiera la necesidad de responsabilizar a su Director General por su seguridad personal y familiar. Y escandaloso el que callaran al respecto, el resto de los diputados de todas las bancadas. Pero peor, el silencio del Jefe de la Fuerza Pública (por demás jefe político del “Panky”), quien abdica así a su responsabilidad como Jefe de Estado.
Como diputado, Soto tiene acceso a todas las finanzas del gobierno, y actúa responsablemente al expresar su opinión que no se justifica esa enormidad. Su critica específica (que el comisionado Omar Pinzón gana más que su Jefe) es patente a quienes sólo tenemos la información a la que se nos permite acceso. Consta que el Presidente tiene presupuestado $7 mil mensuales, y el señor Director General $10 mil. Lo que chorrea, queda en la penumbra. Lo de los $30 mil mensuales para lo que los franceses denominan “la porción de los lagartos” es ya otra cosa.
En vez de actuar con transparencia para aclarar la realidad, la reacción del poder tras el trono militar ha sido desatar una campaña propagandísta en medios acríticos — del patrón heredado de “el gobierno anterior”.
Al tomar posesión, el presidente Juan Carlos Varela no reparó en violar la Constitución, al nombrar a Pinzón, Pinzón en aceptar y el resto de la oficialidad en callar ante este trastoque del escalafón que en 1968 conllevó al retiro del mandatario Panameñista de entonces. Para coronar este irrespeto que hoy hace metástasis en toda la Nación, en 2014 Varela también causó que se cerrara el programa “Alternativa” del Dr. Miguel Antonio Bernal — quien le había admonido públicamente en contra del nombramiento ilegal.
We don’t get Bolivian ships coming through the Panama Canal. Bolivia has been landlocked since losing its access to the sea in the 19th century War of the Pacific and its relations with Chile in particular have been tense ever since. There are Panamanians who support Bolivia’s cause about this, the case is before the World Court and we may yet live to see a Bolivian container ship in the locks.
Rich in minerals but repeatedly looted for that reason, Bolivia has been one of the poorest countries in the Americas. These days things are looking up. President Evo Morales, the first indigenous head of state in the overwhelmingly indigenous country, is now into his third term and there is no allegation of fraud or coercion in his election. He brought those who speak Aymara as a first language like he does, others whose native tongue is Quechua and those who speak Spanish first, highlanders and lowlanders, into a new constitutional deal that renamed the country The Plurinational State of Bolivia, and has overseen some good times in which poverty has gone way down.
There have been ups and downs — lowland secessionists who wanted to take the parts of the country with the oil and gas out of Bolivia, people who objected to a road project through a wilderness area and those who don’t think that the lithium deposits in their region should belong to the whole nation have in their turns been quite assertive — and allegations that the United States was trying to meddle in these disputes and with Bolivian laws about coca have strained relations with the Americans. Morales’s party took some setbacks in recent local elections and he attributed the result to corruption among his followers and instead of throwing a fit he vowed to do something about that. Bolivia’s economy is better than that of its neighbors and with the world’s biggest lithium deposits that will be much in demand for electric car batteries the future is looking positive.
Here in the Casco Viejo members of Panama’s small Bolivian community, diplomats, Panamanian friends of Bolivia, kids from the Escuela Republica de Bolivia and the Escuela Simon Bolivar across the street from the plaza gathered to honor our fellow republic. Dignitaries spoke and a National Police band played. Bolívar’s dream lives.
Nicolás Corcione skips a deposition with the prosecutor as his lawyer asserts that as a member of the Panama Canal Authority board of directors Corcione is immune from dealing with prosecutors and the regular court system
ACP board member seeks to
be untouchable for bribery
by Eric Jackson
This is how it works, or at least how embattled Panama Canal Authority board of directors member Nicolás Corcione and his lawyers want it to work:
An investigation has begun, in which Corcione’s name has come up both as the coordinator of a bribery – kickback – money laundering scheme and as a recepient of $200,000 for playing that role. Prosecutors took a closer look at Corcione and called him in for questioning under oath — an indagatoria, one of the depositions that are central to Panamanian criminal proceedings.
As the investigation began, Corcione left the country and via his lawyers begged off on the indagatoria until he came back. The interrogation was rescheduled for August 5, but on that day he didn’t show up and his lawyer asserted that under the Judicial Code and the Constitution, prosecutors and ordinary court have no jurisdiction over him, that only the Supreme Court can investigate, prosecute and try him.
It is one of the rules of Panamanian criminal procedure that if a criminal investigation is begun by a prosecutor who has no constitutional jurisdiction, everything about that investigation is null and void and no new investigation about the same matter may be opened, at any level.
Since the law that created the Panama Canal Authority provides that members of the board of directors may only be removed for cause, and since any criminal proceedings against Corcione would be barred, he would keep his position on the ACP board.
Neat trick, isn’t it?
Except that Title XIV of Panama’s Constitution, the part about the Panama Canal, doesn’t directly say what Corcione and his lawyers claim that it says. Article 318 provides that:
The administration of the Panama Canal Authority shall be run by a board of directors composed by 11 directors, appointed in this way:
1. A director designated by the president of the republic, who will preside over the board of directors and shall have the condition of state mininster for canal affairs…
The other members of the board of directors are not given the status of ministers. Then when you go to Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which was in force before the Panama Canal Authority was created — it provides that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Bench shall hear cases involving vice ministers, prosecutors, appeals court judges, top police officers, diplomats and a variety of other officials, including “the directors and managers of autonomous and semi-autonomous entities and those who work in whatever other post with authority and jurisdiction in all of the territory of the republic….” A government minister is a member of the executive branch with authority and jurisdiction. A member of an authority’s board occupies a post in a collegial policy-making body, but has no authority in an individual capacity to issue orders to those who work for the authority.
In the case of the toxic cough syrup mixed and distributed by the Social Security Fund, several members of that institution’s board were charged with a crime for alleged negligent oversight. They never allocated the funds out of the budget they got from the legislature for an adequate medicine testing system, but it was found by the ordinary courts that those facts did not support a conviction for hundreds of counts of negligent homicide. The case was prosecuted by the regular prosecutors at tried by a regular judge and the matter of only the Supreme Court’s Penal Bench having jurisdiction was never raised. Precedent doesn’t mean much in Panama’s legal system, but the weight of legal opinion here is that for purposes of Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure “director” means the person with top administrative powers and not a member of a board of directors who has no executive duties. Constitutional law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal opines that the only one on the ACP board who has “authority and jurisdiction” is the minister of canal affairs.
In the years since the provisions found in Article 40 have been in effect, it would have been wiser in the drafting of laws creating state entities to use a word other than “director” for members of those institutions’ boards. Careless legal drafting, like falsified academic credentials, is one of the hallmarks of Panama’s political class. Sometimes confusion is actually what is intended.
The Panama Canal Authority has had problems with the canal expansion and may have more. It took a lowball bid from a consortium that includes a construction company owned for the then administrator’s family and is facing major money disputes that are in litigation or arbitration with that consortium. The authority is planning to expand into ports, oil pipeline and fossil fuel power plant businesses and some of the objections suggest conflicts of interest. A board packed with people from industries that have pecuniary interests in the canal and with old-school politicians does not escape critical mention. But polls indicate that most Panamanians give the ACP the benefit of the doubt.
Will that benefit of the doubt survive if the ACP board includes one of Martinelli’s insiders, an executive in an industry that would be favored if the ACP’s controversial plans to expand into other businesses proceed, about whom there is probable cause to investigate whether he’s a big-time crook but has gamed the system to block any investigation and to remain on the board?
Corcione may not get away with his legal ploy, but Bernal thinks that it will at least delay the proceedings against him. Other legal scholars have also opined in statements to other media that what Corcione is trying to do is legally flawed.
Bernal suggests a quicker way than endless litigation for the ACO to free itself from this Gordian Knot. “Corcione’s colleagues should vote to remove him from the board.” Can they do that? One might imply it from the powers enumerated in the Constitution, but unlike the power to remove the adminstrator it’s not something that’s explicitly granted. But the ACP board does have the power to set regulations in order to improve the authority’s functions and generally exercise all canal-related functions under the laws of Panama. So wouldn’t that give them to power to remove Corcione?
Think about it. If his colleagues kicked him out, Corcione might scream and yell and sue. To quickly set aside the action he’s have to file an ammparo de garantias with the Supreme Court, which would have to hold a summary hearing to decide if his case has enough merit to stay any action against him. But then he’d be rolling the dice with magistrates who are surely embarrassed by a corrupt scheme involving their institution, when he is alleged to have been a central player in that scheme. It would look terrible and could provoke a constitutional crisis if they ruled in favor of Corcione.
Other balls may be played in other courts. Attorney General Kenia Porcell could just order her prosecutors to proceed against Corcione as if he were a two-bit gangster from the slums, sending the police out to arrest him and bring him in for an indagatoria, at the end of which he would be ordered jailed pending trial as a scofflaw and flight risk charged with a serious crime.
The problem remains, for now. The Panama Canal Authority is under a cloud, with what appears to be a notorious scandal in its midst. The aura of patriotic pride in a canal taken over from the Americans and apparently well run and moving in a new direction may not shine so well through that sort of a cloud.
Panamanian prosecutors give files about their investigation of the tax privatization scheme to the Supreme Court and the Attorney General forwards files from the Italian courts to the magistrates
Four now, or is it five?
by Eric Jackson
Ricardo Martinelli is sending out increasingly strident Twitter tweets from his Miami refuge, to a decreasing band of followers. Due to internal Cambio Democratico elections, he briefly had immunity from prosecution as party leader but the Electoral Tribunal has stripped that away. The cases already accepted by the high court for investigation are on hold for a moment as the magistrates consider a constitutional challenge to a law that Martinelli had passed to shorten the time to investigate criminal activity by politicians. If that law is upheld, look for some quick summary trials and Martinelli complaints about rushed justice. If it is overturned look for complex investigations of extensive criminal enterprises, leading to longer trials on charges with many counts.
The latest file sent by Panamanian investigators to the Supreme Court was sent to the magistrates by Fourth Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Ruth Morcillo. It’s about corruption in the Cobranzas del Istmo tax collection privatization scheme, for which former national revenue director Luis Cucalón is in jail and businessman Cristóbal Salerno is under house arrest. Salerno testified that he had delivered suitcases full of between $400,000 and $600,000 in cash to Ricardo Martinelli every two or three months, and that he had given Martinelli a check for $900,000 made out in the name of a company linked to the ex-president. Morcillo still has jurisdiction over Cucalón, Salerno and several other suspects but as a member of the Central American Parliament Martinelli can only be investigated and possibly tried and sentenced by the Supreme Court.
Arriving at the Supreme Court a few days earlier were case files from Italy in which former political operative Valter Lavitola was convicted for extortion and kickback schemes involving Martinelli. It will be some time before the magistrates even consider whether to open a formal investigation, as the files are in Italian and must be translated to Spanish. Revelations of documents in those files from years ago indicated schemes for Martinelli or his party’s campaign slush funds to receive money from Italian contractors, and of a partially successful shakedown of Italian construction company Impregilo. However, as Martinelli was not a defendant in those cases some material about his real or alleged conduct may not have made it into the trial courts’ files. So do we count that as a Martinelli investigation?
Cases already accepted and under formal investigation — but stalled by the constitutional motion — are about kickbacks in the purchase of food for school lunch programs and illegal electronic espionage. Particularly in the latter case, investigations are proceeding against other defendants and turning up information that will probably figure in the Supreme Court cases against Martinelli.
A third case that will be formally opened shortly has to do with hundreds of unconstitutional pardons issued by Martinelli. Under Panama’s constitution, sentences may be commuted for just about any crime for which there has been a conviction and sentence, but pardons are only allowed for “political crimes.” It might be interesting to hear Martinelli’s arguments that police killing innocent young fishermen and and then planting a firearm in their boat to plead self-defense is a political crime. Many of the pardons, however, were for public officials who stole public funds for use in the Cambio Democratico campaign. Between President Varela’s decrees and Supreme Court decisions, some 355 of Martinelli’s pardons have been revoked.
Research by the Public Health Agency of Canada developed the vaccine, many others have worked to test it and develop strategies to use it
The world is on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine
by the World Health Organization
Results from an interim analysis of the Guinea Phase III efficacy vaccine trial show that VSV-EBOV (Merck, Sharp & Dohme) is highly effective against Ebola. The independent body of international experts — the data and safety monitoring board — that conducted the review, advised that the trial should continue. Preliminary results from analyses of these interim data were published on July 31 in the British journal The Lancet.
“This is an extremely promising development,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “The credit goes to the Guinean government, the people living in the communities and our partners in this project. An effective vaccine will be another very important tool for both current and future Ebola outbreaks.”
While the vaccine up to now shows 100 percent efficacy in individuals, more conclusive evidence is needed on its capacity to protect populations through what is called “herd immunity.” To that end, the Guinean national regulatory authority and ethics review committee have approved continuation of the trial.
“This is Guinea’s gift to West Africa and the world,” said Dr. Sakoba Keita, Guinea’s national coordinator for the Ebola response. “The thousands of volunteers from Conakry and other areas of Lower Guinea, but also the many Guinean doctors, data managers and community mobilizers have contributed to finding a line of defense against a terrible disease.”
“The “ring” vaccination method adopted for the vaccine trial is based on the smallpox eradication strategy,” said John-Arne Røttingen, Director of the Division of Infectious Disease Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Chair of the Study Steering Group. “The premise is that by vaccinating all people who have come into contact with an infected person you create a protective “ring” and stop the virus from spreading further. This strategy has helped us to follow the dispersed epidemic in Guinea, and will provide a way to continue this as a public health intervention in trial mode.”
The Guinea vaccination trial began in affected communities on March 23, 2015 to evaluate the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of a single dose of the vaccine VSV-EBOV by using a ring vaccination strategy. To date, over 4,000 close contacts of almost 100 Ebola patients, including family members, neighbors, and co-workers, have voluntarily participated in the trial.
The trial stopped randomization on July 26 to allow for all people at risk to receive the vaccine immediately, and to minimize the time necessary to gather more conclusive evidence needed for eventual licensure of the product. Until now, 50 percent of the rings were vaccinated three weeks after the identification of an infected patient to provide a term of comparison with rings that were vaccinated immediately. This now stops. In addition, the trial will now include 13 to 17-year-old and possibly 6 to 12-year-old children on the basis of new evidence of the vaccine’s safety.
“In parallel with the ring vaccination we are also conducting a trial of the same vaccine on frontline workers,” said Bertrand Draguez, Medical Director at Médecins sans Frontières. “These people have worked tirelessly and put their lives at risk every day to take care of sick people. If the vaccine is effective, then we are already protecting them from the virus. With such high efficacy, all affected countries should immediately start and multiply ring vaccinations to break chains of transmission and vaccinate all frontline workers to protect them.”
The trial is being implemented by the Guinean authorities, WHO, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, with support from a broad partnership of international and national organizations.
“This is a remarkable result which shows the power of equitable international partnerships and flexibility,” said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, one of the funders of the trial. “This partnership also shows that such critical work is possible in the midst of a terrible epidemic. It should change how the world responds to such emerging infectious disease threats. We, and all our partners, remain fully committed to giving the world a safe and effective vaccine. ”
“This record-breaking work marks a turning point in the history of health R&D,” said Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO. “We now know that the urgency of saving lives can accelerate R&D. We will harness this positive experience to develop a global R&D preparedness framework so that if another major disease outbreak ever happens again, for any disease, the world can act quickly and efficiently to develop and use medical tools and prevent a large-scale tragedy.”
Vecinos de áreas revertidas exigen transparencia a la ACP
por Olmedo Beluche
Invitados por la compañera Rocío de Carnheiro, presidenta de la Asociación de Vecinos Residentes de Altos de Diablo, el sábado 1 de agosto acudimos al auditorio Ascanio Arosemena, del Colegio de Balboa, a la reunión que esa comunidad tenía con técnicos y directivos de la Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP) para que explicaran el impacto sobre su comunidad del proyectado Puerto de Corozal. El asunto preocupa y se evidencia en la asistencia de casi cien personas del área, acompañadas de algunos observadores solidarios invitados, como en nuestro caso.
Lo primero que se evidenció en la reunión es la falta de democracia y consulta con que funciona la ACP, la cual lanza este proyecto de desarrollo económico sin tomar en cuenta a las personas cuyas viviendas se verán afectadas por el proyecto, tal y como ha sucedido en otros lugares, como Barro Blanco, etc., por lo cual las comunidades en todo el país han salido ha exigir sus derechos frente a proyectos hidroeléctricos o mineros con que lucrarán terceros a costa de la gente que vive en la zona.
La primera y reiterada exigencia que hicieron los residentes de Diablo fue que se hicieran públicos los estudios de impacto ambiental del proyectado Puerto de Corozal, los cuales se mantienen bajo secreto absoluto. Secretismo que es contradictorio con la legislación que exige la consulta y participación de la comunidad.
Según explicaron los técnicos de la ACP, el Puerto de Corozal será una mega estructura en la que atracarán buques postpanamax a depositar contenedores para ser transportados por ferrocarril a través del Istmo. Completadas las dos fases tendrán cerca de 2000 metros de “frente de mar”, que en realidad serán frente de cauce del canal, pues su ubicación estará al norte del actual puerto de Balboa, entre el hangar de botes de Diablo y las instalaciones de la ACP de Corozal, frente a la comunidad de Cárdenas.
La principal queja de los residentes de Diablo es que ya han sido afectados por la expansión del puerto de Balboa, el cual incluso les ha robado el acceso a su comunidad, y ahora quedarían emparedados entre los dos megapuertos, con todo lo que ello implica en cuanto a polución, ruido, etc.
Algunos ingenieros y arquitectos presentes señalaron que la ubicación del puerto era inconveniente no solo para las comunidades aledañas, sino para el propio tráfico por el canal, ya que la dársena del puerto de Corozal, es decir, el área donde los buques serán maniobrados para atracarlos, está dentro del cauce del canal, justo donde confluyen el acceso a la esclusa de Miraflores y la entrada a la nueva esclusa ampliada del Pacífico.
Los residentes denunciaron que durante muchos años se promocionó, e incluso se hicieron estudios, para construir este segundo puerto del Pacífico, no en Corozal, sino en Farfán – Palo Seco, que está en el margen occidental del canal, y fuera del cauce. Señalaron además que oscuros intereses han llevado a la ACP a desechar ese proyecto a favor de Corozal.
En los corrillos algunos recordaban que los dueños taiwaneses de la concesión del puerto de Balboa, temiendo la competencia, se opusieron al Puerto en Farfán. Otros, “off ther record”, hablaban de que aparentemente figuras poderosas, como el político y banquero Alberto Vallarino, habían comprado varias de las hectáreas del área de Corozal. Los funcionarios de la ACP despacharon rápidamente el tema alegando que el puerto en Farfán había sido proyectado para construirlo con el material excavado en las nuevas esclusas, y que como se dispuso otro uso al mismo, automáticamente se descartaba esa ubicación.
Lo que resulta claro es que la construcción del puerto en Farfán – Palo Seco, que sería mejor por no ser un área residencial, estar fuera del cauce del canal y no tener ningún proyecto planificado ahí hasta ahora, sí requeriría una mayor inversión, siendo la principal la construcción de una línea férrea, ya sea a través de todo el Istmo hasta el Atlántico, bordeando el cauce occidental del canal, o hasta algún punto donde, a través de un puente confluyera con el ferrocarril que usa ahora el puerto de Balboa.
La construcción del puerto en Corozal se ahorraría esa inversión, pues quedaría junto a la vieja línea férrea, a costa de las comunidades de Diablo y Cárdenas. Inclusive los residentes preguntaron a los representantes de la ACP, por qué estaba dragando junto a la zona donde quedaría el puerto de Corozal, si era para beneficiar a los futuros concesionarios de esas instalaciones.
Por cierto que, otro asunto que gravita en torno a la ACP, es que de acuerdo al título constitucional de 1994, y a ley orgánica, parece que la Junta Directiva puede otorgar en concesión este tipo de proyectos sin pasar por todos los requisitos de licitación y transparencia que se exige al resto del Estado panameño. Lo cual se suma a lo que se ha venido denunciando desde hace años: desaparecido el control norteamericano sobre el canal, se ha creado en sustitución una “zonita del canal” en la que los directivos de la ACP actúan “como si fueran soberanos” y estuvieran al margen del resto del país.
En conclusión, nos parece evidente que la ciudadanía conciente, las organizaciones populares, los grupos ambientalistas, debemos acompañar y apoyar a los residentes de las comunidades de Diablo y Cárdenas en esta lucha, con el mismo ahínco con que hemos apoyado la lucha contra la hidroeléctrica de Barro Blanco, pues se trata de la misma lucha: exigir que las comunidades sean partícipes y verdaderamente consultadas frente a todo proyecto económico que directamente les afecte. En eso consiste la democracia, ¿verdad?