Legislature would hire company that did Varela’s phone security

Yeah, yeah — THAT was off the contract and so on and so forth….

Whose timing? As VarelaLeaks are published, legislators plan to hire the company that did Varela’s phone security to keep their perks secret

by Eric Jackson

All the rage, with perhaps the wrong mix of concerns. Former president Varela’s 2017 and 2018 WhatsApp conversations with top officials, the American ambassador and others have been published, an edited trove that reveals some some serious improprieties. Many oxen appear to be gored, which leaves some media personalities sputtering or changing the subject. There are investigations of seriousness to be seen said to be opening. The attorney general has gone on an immediate vacation and tendered a resignation that will be effective at the end of the year. The ex-president and a Supreme Court magistrate, looking at the circumstances, are pointing fingers at Ricardo Martinelli and the Israeli / American spy company NSO for having used the Pegasus eavesdropping system that Martinelli stole and has never been recovered – although so far their case remains speculative.

And over at the legislative palace? See, they get these perks that most citizens resent. Perhaps at the top of the list is the ability to import duty-free cars, which are often VERY expensive machines that are then resold at relative bargain basement – because no duty was paid – prices to the very rich and big profits for the elected officials. Generally these deals amount to tax evasion and violations of the National Assembly’s rules, but the laws broken tend to be civil rather than criminal and pains are taken to keep anyone from watching. That guy with the illustrious surname who’s tooling around in a Lamborghini is presumed to do that because that’s what rabiblancos do, and if it was imported tax free in some legislator’s name you’re not supposed to know.

One might argue under the Transparency Law that the high court has turned into a dead letter that people have the right to know. But who’s to know, let alone enforce? But the deputies intend to cover their rears about this by creating an in-house confidential database to keep track of the duty-free cars, special license plates and other perks of the 71 deputies and their up to 71 (there are actually fewer) suplentes. Not such a huge mass of data, with fewer than a gross beneficiaries / offenders.

$455,000 worth of software engineering to build that database, it has been reported in La Prensa and social media. Said sum to be spent on a no-bid contract with a “go to” company, Organización Nobel, S.A. They do or have done work for the Ministries of Health and labor, and for the Social Security Fund and the National Migration Service.

And also the Ministry of the Presidency. Back in 2017 they were hired by the ministry to protect the privacy of the electronic communications of the National Security Council. The president would be privy to all of that, Panamanians who care about democracy should hope. But then, it’s a staple of lowball public contract bidding to leave essential elements of a job out of a contract, so as to charge the government extra for those. In any case, back in mid-2017 it was a $160,000 package to keep the Presidencia’s voice and data conversations on 40 portable devices and 20 stationary ones secret.

Now we read the former president’s communications from 2017 and 2018. Surely there will be an explanation of how the government got what it paid for and expected.

Perhaps it will be explained to us how nearly triple that amount will suffice to keep the legislators’ unpopular perks out of public view. But maybe that justification will be delayed until after future leaks, when we read about who imported a Ferrari and who got a duty-free Maserati. On November 7 a legislative evaluation committee took Nobel’s bid, the only bid, and found it acceptable. However, the legislature will have to accept it and they don’t go back into regular session until January. With President Cortizo’s cooperation they might put it on a special session agenda and jam it through before then.

With Panamanian corporate secrecy one never can be sure of ownership from public records, but those documents on file suggest that Organización Nobel SA is an Echeverría family business.


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