business & economy
Business & Economy Briefs
2007 school year may be longer
Education Minister Miguel Cañizales has told La Estrella that his immediate priority is to expand the number of days and hours of schooling for Panamanian students, to at least 200 school days per year with more hours of classes each day. He's also talking about revising the teacher evaluation system, which is a relic from the 1950s. Depending on whether or not the government attempts to do these things without increasing the number of teachers or by demanding more classroom hours, larger class sizes or political obeisance from educators, there may or may not be some substantial labor strife over this. Both the teachers' unions and the government, along with most business leaders and international experts who have reviewed the state of Panamanian education, say that what we have now is obsolete, ineffective at producing the skilled work force that society needs and in dire need of reform.
WBA moving here
We are in one of the Panamanian boxing scene's more brilliant periods, and one apparent ratification of that reality is the World Boxing Association's decision to move its headquarters from Caracas to Panama City. The WBA is already mainly working out of Panama, but the opening of its new offices here won't be until sometime in February or March.
Emergency measures in case of Azuero drought
With the heavy rains of the moment, you might not be thinking in terms of a drought. However, water temperatures in the Central Pacific are up that that means we're in an El Niño phenomenon, which most often means a longer and drier than usual dry season. The Ministry of Agricultural Development is preparing to the threat in the driest part of the country, the Azuero Peninsula, by drilling more water wells and building damming small streams to make reservoirs.
Approach to the Centennial Bridge is crumbling away
The western approach to the Centennial bridge, the one coming from Arraijan, is collapsing. Just a year and one-half after the bridge was opened, instead of two lanes coming onto the bridge there is only one. The other one has broken up and is sliding down a hill. The expense of fixing the problem, which was caused by inadequate drainage, will be borne by the contractor who build the approach road and gave a five-year warranty on the work.
60 bus drivers lose their permits for unpaid tickets
The crackdown on problem buses and bus drivers continues. One of the latest power displays by the government was the cancellation of permits for the alleged 60 worst bus drivers in Panama. Together these drivers owe $314,509 for 9,499 unpaid tickets. The worst offender, so Transito said, had 337 tickets.
Former Transito director opts out of bus system transition
After the deadly October 23 bus fire Angelino Harris, then director of the Land Transportation and Transit authority, was reassigned to be a special presidential adviser in charge of the Torrijos administration's project to replace the owner-operated diablo rojo buses with one or more large private bus companies. However, it has been announced that Harris has declined the new post.
Problem school buses
Transito director Severino Mejía says that at least 400 school buses are operating illegally in Panama. He's talking about the lack of proper permits rather than safety problems with the buses themselves. Of course, some of them may not have permits because the buses or the drivers wouldn't be able to meet safety standards.
Transito wants to ban standing on buses
The Land Transportation and Transit Authority (Transito) is proposing a law to ban standing on public buses. The norm on buses to the Interior is that standees are not allowed, but on city buses there is such a demand, especially now that Transito has taken hundreds of buses out of circulation in a crackdown after the October 23 bus fire, that the choice is between unsafe and uncomfortable packing on buses or no public transportation available when people need it. The drivers say that if they have to carry fewer people, they'll raise fares to make up for their lost income, but Transito warns that this won't be tolerated.
No new soccer stadium on Cerro Patacon
In 2005, after a good Panamanian performance the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, President Torrijos said that his administration would replace Rommel Fernandez Stadium with a new soccer stadium on Cerro Patacon, next to the National Stadium where baseball is played. However, when the hillside nature of the place where he had been thinking about building was reviewed, it turned out to be too costly to put a new stadium on the site. Thus that plan has been scrapped in favor of a $5 million upgrade at Rommel Fernandez Stadium across town in Juan Diaz.
SUNTRACS calls for more inspectors
In the wake of a series of deadly accidents on construction sites, the SUNTRACS construction workers union is demanding that the Ministry of Labor Development hire more safety inspectors. Labor Minister Reynaldo Rivera says that although the ministry makes thousands of safety inspections every year, it's mainly up to the workers themselves to maintain safety standards at worksites. The law puts the responsibility for inspection on the ministry, but also legalizes strike actions over safety issues. SUNTRACS has occasionally walked out over workplace safety, and on some of these occasions the ministry has recognized those strikes as legal and sometimes not. Anti-labor voices from management, the PRD and wealthy conservatives in general have sometimes used the on-the-job deaths of at least 21 Panamanian construction workers this year to make the argument that SUNTRACS really doesn't serve its members.
Confrontations brewing over mining
It's a battle that has been fought off and on for decades between PRD governments and the people of the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca. The national government, which under the constitution holds all of Panama's mineral rights, is trying to promote mining by foreign concessionaires in Ngobe country. In the 70s and again in the 90s there were epic political battles over projects to mine copper --- and dump mining wastes --- at Cerro Colorado. Now the Ngobe General Congress complains that at least five mining concessions and at least 64 exploration permits have been granted within the comarca, without any consultation with and against the wishes of the elected authorities in the semi-autonomous commonwealth. In these long-running disputes, mining companies and governments have typically selected Ngobe "leaders" with whom to "negotiate," and have promised jobs but never a share of the proceeds from any mining. However, the taking of land for mining roads and plans for the disposal of mine tailings and chemicals used to separate metals from ore have always inflamed local passions against such projects. Most often the projects have failed either because the economics didn't work out or because they were never serious in the first place. In the latter case we have a long history of shares in spurious mining ventures in Panama being sold on foreign securities exchanges.
Trump contemplates fast sales, December groundbreaking
Donald Trump and the other promoters of the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower project in Costa del Este say they expect to hold groundbreaking ceremonies before Christmas and to have all of the 500 condos in the project sold not only well before the 2009 completion date, but possibly before construction begins. The project will also include a 312-room hotel, a casino and a marina.
Cedeño: powerful must yield
It seems that, although the Catholic Church has made a notable turn to the right on many issues under Pope Benedict XVI, its teachings on economic justice have not fully embraced neoliberal theories. In a November 16 mass the nation at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Panama's Catholic Archbishop José Dimas Cedeño said that those in positions of power will have to sacrifice their privileges if Panama is to truly have economic development.
Expensive but plentiful Thanksgiving
In the supermarkets it appeared that the supply of turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving was larger than last year, but a bag of frozen cranberries at Riba Smith was $4.95. In some years the cranberries have disappeared immediately, however, while there seemed to be plenty when the editor of The Panama News went in search of the fixings. Thanksgiving is a quintessentially gringo holiday, although there is also a Canadian version in October. Still, US citizens aren't the only ones who feast on that day, because the habit has been picked up by some Panamanians due to the long exposure US customs because of the well-established American community here. A number of restaurants and hotels in Panama City serve Thanksgiving dinners, and at those Americans are usually in the minority.
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