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editorial

Formalities serve no good purpose when the Supreme Court supports corruption

The Supreme Court has effectively ruled that when a president steals from the public coffers, the matter can never even be investigated, whether for criminal prosecution or simply so that the government can proceed civilly to regain what was unlawfully taken. That's what the order quashing the Comptroller General's audit of Mireya Moscoso's theft over five years of an average of more than $1,000 per day from the presidential secret fund --- that is, from the public treasury --- to buy herself clothing and jewelry. The high court, for different but no less specious reasons, has also blocked any inquiry into the secret fund abuses of the Pérez Balladares administration.

On the heels of those sordid rulings, it was announced that, in a simple case of a debt arising from the privatization of a public company for which the sale price was never paid, Mireya's campaign treasurer "Onassis" García has some sort of constitutional right to not have assets sufficient to cover the debt sequestered by the state.

Then, assets were unfrozen in a scandal wherein the contract for the maintenance of the country's coastal lighthouses and buoys was given to a company that appears to have been a front for former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares. The apparent "legal reasoning" was that since after the fact Toro enjoyed immunity from investigation and prosecution as a member of the Central American Parliament, not only is he forever immune from answering for such things, but all of his accomplices who aren't and never were members of PARLACEN share in his immunity. One of the beneficiaries of that latter ruling was Hugo Torrijos, the president's cousin and advisor, who at the time of that questioned contract headed the ports authority that granted it.

Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez is reacting with classic formality, considering it unbecoming of a person her position to criticize the rulings of the Supreme Court. President Martín Torrijos continually reminds us that the nation's institutions must be respected. The PRD-controlled National Assembly has summarily thrown out all complaints about the most obvious corruption in the high court, apparently with the expectation that a court that can strip the immunity from legislators will not do so if the legislature reciprocates for the benefit of the magistrates.

In situations like these, exaggerated pretenses of decorum, respect for public institutions and support for the rule of law are misguided. Under ordinary circumstances these sorts of values are indispensable, but in the present context they merely amount to excuses for why the famous "zero corruption" campaign promise can't be kept.

The one bright spot for the Torrijos administration in this gloomy picture is that the president's one appointee on Supreme Court has opposed the pro-corruption majority. However, the questionable qualities of many of his high-level appointees and the arrogance of so many of the activists who got lower-level hack jobs with the change of administration suggest that the expansion of the court's membership and its packing with Torrijos nominees might not give us a majority of magistrates who are as well suited for the job as Mrs. Troitiño seems to be.

What does Martín Torrijos's party call itself? "Democratic?" "Revolutionary?" Or just another party playing the usual games of a discredited Panamanian political class?

We urgently need a democratic revolution in our legal system. "Democratic" as in a single standard of justice for all, rather than the present impunity for privileged sectors based upon their wealth, family background or political connections. "Revolutionary" as in cutting the Gordian Knot of spurious formalism designed to perpetuate corruption and protect the alleged property rights of hoodlums to keep the proceeds of their criminal activities. "Democratic" as in a system that allows for full public discussion based upon open public records of the qualifications of high court nominees, rather than the current scrutiny-free legislative rubber stamp. "Revolutionary" as in a new breed of jurists who are more concerned with justice and the advancement of Panamanian society than with which magistrate gets to ride in which luxury car.

Maybe President Torrijos and his party can get out of the box created by undue respect for corrupted institutions. Maybe they can even do it in the name of those very public institutions they say they must respect, which would not amount to hypocrisy under the present circumstances.

It seems, however, that the most realistic way to get governmental institutions that the public can respect is by a truly democratic revolution that sweeps the PRD and all the opposition parties into irrelevance, scraps the present unworkable constitution and creates a more honorable and equitable paradigm in which public affairs are debated and decided. Easier said than done, but the current system is untenable and perpetually in danger of becoming unbearable.

 

Bear in mind...

There are various degrees of death, and time spares us none of them.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Righteous people terrify me.

Aneurin Bevan

An idea does not pass from one language to another without change.

Miguel de Unamuno

 

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