Baby steps back from the brink

high court
REJECT! The Supreme Court says it won’t hear the Panameñistas’omplaint about the PRD and CD ganging up in the legislature and reorganizing the Credentials Committee to the disadvantage of President Varela and his party.

Baby steps back from the brink

by Eric Jackson


    • The National Assembly, which had been sued in the Supreme Court by President Varela’s Panameñista Party for reorganizing the Credentials Committee – essentially for confirming that the 16 Panameñista votes in a 71-member assembly don’t count for much – went ahead and elected new committee members anyway.


    • The new committee took up old complaints against the president, the vire president and several high court magistrates. As in, a tacit warning by the legislative branch that it can mess with the judicial and executive branches if push comes to shove. But then it went on to throw out the 15 criminal complaints.


    • The Comptroller General, having burdened the Public Ministry with a truckload of documents detailing criminal activity by most of the legistlators in the Martinelli years – surely knowing that the resources are not there to investigate and the National Assembly is unlikely to vote to provide them – went on to say that he will audit the current legislature’s payroll. A terrible cry was heard, mostly from the assembly’s president, Yanibel Ábrego. Attorney General Kenia Porcell and the prosecutors of the Public Ministry and Comptroller General Federico Humbert are theoretically independent players. From the legislature complaints about separation of powers may have elicited private chuckles from the executive, but in any case Humbert’s people descended on the National Assembly and begin their audit. As in, a tacit warning to the legislature not to press its luck.


    • The theoretically autonomous Panama Canal Authority board of directors is mired in several scandals, generally not having directly to do with anything canal-related. Two of its members, Nicky Corcione and Henry Mizrachi, went on the lam for several months and stopped attending meetings. For most of that time the ACP, the president and everyone else in high governmental places insisted that nothing could be done, thanks to the authority’s constitutional autonomy. But anti-corruption czarina Angélica Maytín alleged malfeasance and cited chapter and verse of the law that created the ACP. Varela, back from another of his foreign jaunts, said that he will act on Maytín’s petition to remove the two board members, which is based not on the merits of alleged crimes but just for absenting themselves from their jobs. What action the president will take has yet to be seen.


    • Independent legislator Ana Matilde Gómez, also an independent presidential candidate and allegedly the Motta family’s way out of Panama’s political conundrum, had long proposed to eliminate the statute of limitations for public corruption crimes. With obvious crooks being cut loose after elaborate delay games tolerated by the courts, public outrage finally got Gómez’s proposal a proper hearing. The legislature was and is divided: elections are less than a year and a half away and even though the Electoral Tribunal has banned the publication of opinion polls and is doing its extralegal utmost to keep new parties and independent candidates who might upset old games off of the ballot, deputies get it about the public sentiment to throw all of them out of office. Not a good time to look pro-corruption. But the lost opportunity to be saved by the calendar could mean not only lost political jobs but also prison time. The law got through committee and then the run-up to Holy Week was a time of endless amendments and objections, many posturing as hardcore anti-corruption but intended to kill the measure by delay until the legislative session runs out. Perhaps most emblematic was one PRD legislator’s objection that the end of the current games would fill the prisons over capacity. People were apparently taken aside and talked to, so on the day after Easter the assembly passed the law with some modifications by a unanimous vote on second reading. It must be passed by the legislature on third reading, signed by the president and perhaps upheld in the face of challenges by the Supreme Court before effectively becoming law.


  • At about the same time, the administrative bench of the Supreme Court decided that it would not hear the Panameñistas’ appeal of the legislature’s decision to change the membership of its Credentials Committee.
So, just about everyone has asserted his or her institution’s power, then in most cases stepped back from its use. The amended text of the law eliminating the statute of limitations for many offenses has yet to be published. So far there have been few disappeared legislators. 

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