Editorial, Not even in the ballpark about which questions to ask

President-elect Cortizo meets with the “Consejo de la Concertación Nacional para el Desarrollo” to discuss what as yet undisclosed constitutional changes they have in store for the dark-skinned masses. MIDES photo.

An embarrassment headed toward a political defeat

There are some flagrant chokepoints at which Panamanian society is being strangled. You’d think that some of these would rise to the level of constitutional issues.

Issues? What issues? Check out the spiffy headline that went with the above picture in the Ministry of Social Development’s website:

Councilors of the National Development Agreement meet in plenary session to seek consensus on proposals presented by the Commissions on Modernization of the State, Justice and Public Security; Public Health and Social Security, and Sustainable Economic Growth and Competitiveness

Say what? Certainly if you go down into the story you’d find more specifics? Nothing about any details of a constitutional reform, or of any issue that matters. We have heard a few descriptions of details in second-hand new reports, and references to a 57-page document that the public has never been allowed to see. None of it is impressive. Most of it isn’t remotely relevant to the country’s pressing problems.

But there ARE important issues that have added up to give Panama a crisis:

Monopolistic practices are the norm, and are enshrined by the state in laws and regulations. It costs Panamanians a lot of money, makes us uncompetitive in the world, and whenever by international agreement or coercion international players are allowed into this country those Panamanian businesses that had basked in the luxuries of rigged markets and nepotism tend to collapse in short order.

Lawyers take too damned much out of this society and are hardly ever called to account for what they do. Some 40 percent of our work force is in the informal sector. Their micro-businesses can’t have bank accounts or mailboxes. Nor can they deal with the government. Nor will the snottiest of rabiblanco companies have anything to do with them except to steal from them if possible. In most other countries, for a small fee a person or partnership can file to go into business under an assumed name or under his or her own name, lacking the legal armor — which here includes anonymity for criminal acts — of a corporation but able to formally do business. Here, a corporation must pay lawyers and CPAs to maintain status, costs that are prohibitive for most small businesses. If a lawyer takes a business’s or person’s money and renders no service, there is no recourse. Disbarment doesn’t ever happen, even for a notorious criminal judge like Alejandro Moncada Luna, who got out of prison and went right into the practice of law the next week.

We have no general conflict of interest law. There are a few anti-nepotism clauses here and there, but how many relatives did the current batch of legislators put on the government payroll? That’s just the start of it. Panama is under international pressure over its lack of conflict of interest laws. The word is out that to do business in Panama is to be ripped off, but our business elites want to ignore that and offer more tax breaks for the rich instead of creating a fair system for both rich and poor.

Panamanian democracy is only hypothetical. It’s not really because someone can and usually does get elected president with a plurality rather than a majority. It’s that legislators are elected not according to any true proportional vote, nor according to the person with more votes wins against the person with fewer votes. It’s that the purchase of votes is allowed and anyone who would complain has to prove that the money for the gifts came from the public till but the records of state finances to do this are opaque. If a president with a little more than one-third of the vote is acceptable, exaggerated presidential powers for such a person are unjustified. Can the Supreme Court remove crooked legislators, and the National Assembly oust crooked magistrates? That’s generally a formula for non-aggression pacts to uphold corruption in both the legislative and judicial branches of government.

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The litany could go on and on, but that’s not what’s being discussed on high. We get hints of constitutional reforms ranging from the cosmetic to the banal, but no case altering any of this country’s political, social or economic inequalities. We are told that a “civil society” body of rich white people will give presidents lists of magistrates whom they might appoint, and that will solve Panama’s problems.

Varela didn’t go along, so now the white business lobbies are going to give the next president a draft, which he might tweak and then send to the voters within a year.

The likely outcome, something that we saw in the Pérez Balladares administration, is that the president who comes in with a third of the vote who then holds a referendum on some constitutional reform that’s inane, self-serving or both unites everyone who did not vote for that president to vote against the proposal. After that the president is a lame duck.

Does Nito Cortizo really want to do that? Why?

Bear in mind…


Love your enemies just in case your friends turn out to be a bunch of bastards.
R. A. Dickson


A stale mind is the devil’s breadbox.
Mary Bly


People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.
Soren Kierkegaard



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