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Volume 15, Number 11
June 27, 2009

economy

Also in this section:
Government decentralization law passes, partly vetoed under strike threat
No more Panama edition of the Miami Herald



Public sector physicians in their 2007 strike. Archive photo by Eric Jackson

Breaking news
Assembly passes decentralization law, unions threaten walkout, Torrijos vetoes parts of it
by Eric Jackson

There's something up, but with the endemic lack of government transparency we can only see the outlines of it. There was a "decentralization" law pushed through the legislature, but its details were unpublished and ever changing through meetings that pushed into the wee hours of the morning. The plan included the transfer of public health systems and public education to local governments.

There were three main reasons behind the legislation, which made it through the National Assembly with only the 44-vote PRD majority voting for it:
  • The PRD got seriously whipped on May 3, losing the presidency by a wide margin and getting so reduced in the next legislature that it will have little room for maneuvers and intrigues. However, the party held onto most of the mayor's offices in Panama (albeit having lost control of the executive branches Panama City and Colon, two of the biggest municipalities). To transfer national government functions to local governments means shifts control of political patronage jobs from a government that the PRD won't control to governments that it will control.

  • The PRD may be handing over the reins of government to a conservative businessman, but they are pro-privatization and by devolving many government services to local government without giving the municipalities the revenue raising powers to maintain them, they aim to ultimately privatize these public functions, as they did in most places when they "municipalized" solid waste management at the end of the party's 1994-1999 government.

  • There is bad blood between the PRD and certain public sector unions, most notably those representing teachers, who were defeated by the Torrijos administration in a bitter 2006 strike; and the organizations representing the Social Security and Ministry of Health physicians, who beat Torrijos in a 39-day strike the following year and shifted the national political momentum in a process that led to Martinelli's landslide win this past May. (That's not to say that Martinelli is friends with COMENENAL, the alliance of public sector doctors' unions. That's far from the case.)

On June 25, a version of the decentralization law that has not been published was passed on third and final reading by the legislature with 44 PRD votes, with most of the opposition deputies boycotting the session. Panameñista deputy José Isabel Blandón, however, denounced the move and said that after the next administration takes office it will introduce its own decentralization proposal.

Meanwhile, led by the militant Veraguas Educators Association (AEVE), teachers' unions were threatening a strike. COMENENAL was also taking a defiant tone. Labor unions and leftist groups called for a rally and march against decentralization on the afternoon of Monday, June 29.

On June 26, President Torrijos vetoed the sections regarding public health and public education. The labor movement said that it's still wary of the rest of the law and considering what to do next.


Teachers, during the 2006 strike. Archive photo by Eric Jackson


Also in this section:
Government decentralization law passes, partly vetoed under strike threat
No more Panama edition of the Miami Herald


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