National Assembly expels Comptroller’s auditors

The gauntlet thrown down: the legislature moves to stop an audit of its payroll. The comptroller then cut off all payments to all National Assembly deputies’ staff members.

After nine more deputies get their payrolls suspended by the
Comptroller General, the National Assembly boots his auditors

by Eric Jackson

The legislature is a bunch of thugs? Doesn’t almost every Panamanian more or less perceive this to be the case, with the real division in society between those who are on or hope to be on the gravy train and those who would derail it?

On May 28 Comptroller General Federico Humbert ordered the suspension of payments to those on the legislative payrolls of 11 deputies: José Luis Varela, Elías Castillo, Jorge Alberto Rosas, Carlos Motta, Melitón Arrocha, Athenas Athanasiadis, Fernando Carrillo, Jaime Pedrol, Aris De Icaza, Juan Serrano and Salvador Real. On June 5 he ordered payments suspended to the legislative staff of nine more deputies, Adolfo “Baby” Valderrama, Dana Castañeda, Ausencio Palacio, Crescencia Prado, José Castillo, José Domínguez, Iván Picota, Néstor Guardia and Felipe Vargas.

Humbert cited things from irregular paperwork to one deputy who has nine family members on the payroll to the standard “botellas” (no-show theoretical employees whose salaries the legislator typically pockets). In some cases, in a direct slap at long-established political patronage traditions, Humbert suggested and questioned campaign crews and mistresses appearing on payrolls. The 20 deputies whose payrolls were blocked represent more than one-third of the legislature and all party caucuses, and the audits were not yet over. Humbert had already reached a final conclusion about the control methods for the legislature managing its payroll, but the particulars of each payroll were still under investigation.

So National Assembly president Yanibel Ábrego, in the name of the legislature rather than in her own right, issued an order that Humbert’s work was over and his auditors were expelled from the legislature. Humbert responded by cutting off all payments for all legislative payrolls. Legislator and PRD leader Pedro Miguel González responded that this action gave the legislature cause to impeach Humbert.

How to put it in partisan terms? It’s the political parties against everybody else, with a caste accustomed to doing things in a certain way opposing labor, business and civic groups.

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