Rector Magnifico gives himself a severance bonus

Rehearsal for the swan song?

Gustavo García de Paredes’s expensive exit

by Eric Jackson

Is his parachute gold or platinum? And is it diamond studded, or merely zircon encrusted? By the terms that have been published, it appears that it will be worth $184,320 to the rector who issued the decree.

He still could run afoul of the Comptroller General or the courts, but the disgraced and defeated outgoing rector of the University of Panama, Gustavo García de Paredes, is doing some major spending on his way out. Having lost the popular vote in 2011 but won on the strength of a weighting system that gave those professors with tenure and administrative employees whom he had hired extra votes, the self-styled Rector Magnífico had intended to run for another term this year but stepped down in the face of multiple scandals, audits and criminal investigations. Had his followers not fought among themselves, perhaps his political machine might have held onto power. But that was not to be and when it became apparent that the game was up many of those who owed their positions to García de Paredes’s patronage headed for the exits. His loyalists were able to be elected as deans of several departments and directors of several regional university branches but his 2011 opponent Eduardo Flores won this time by a wide enough margin to constitute a clear mandate for change.

The results of the June 29 voting took nearly a week to be officially announced. In the wake of the proclamation of physics professor Flores’s election, the winner called for an orderly transition and the avoidance of any major spending decisions. At the time rumors flew around of a mid-July resignation by García de Paredes.

But the outgoing rector ignored calls for the appointment of a joint transition team, decreed job tenure for his vice rectors and other political appointees, approved a $97.4 million contract for the construction of new campuses in San Miguelito and the Clayton Antenna Field, and most recently decreed a series of retirement bonuses. Those who retire early after 10 years of service get six months of their highest salary. Those with 30 years or more of service get 15 months of their highest salary. Considering that the university rector makes more than the president of Panama and the vice rectors make more than national government ministers, it’s quite the generous severance package.

The contracts for the new campuses, the freezing of political appointees into positions in the new administration and the retirement bonuses are all going to be challenged, before the Comptroller General and if they get past that filter in the courts. Look for all of the vice rectors to be locked out of their offices soon after Flores takes over on October 1, then a years-long legal battle over compensation for their ousters. But look at the bonuses as insurance and avoidance, or at least an attempt at these things. If the Rector Magnifico can arrange for these bonuses to be paid out before he leaves office, then he and his entourage can be on their merry ways, leaving the University of Panama that much poorer but at least with that crowd out of the way.


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