Prosecutors investigating major ACP software buy

Aguas Claras
The Aguas Claras Locks, with Gatun Lake in the background. ACP photo.

A $14 million + PanCanal traffic control computing system that was paid for but never used is under the looking glass

by Eric Jackson

The sterling reputation that the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has may be an article of faith to many Panamanians, but it’s largely a work of corporate fiction. There have been conflicts of interest in ACP contracts, plus alleged scandals naming ACP directors and managers, since the US administration ended with 1999.

That said, the ACP stacks up rather well when compared to almost any national government ministry. The information control games that the canal authority plays may have something to do with this, but they are also not on the five-year cycle of political patronage hirings and firings like most of the rest of the government.

Now word leaks out, in a terse Public Ministry announcement, in reports largely out of former president Ricardo Martinelli’s media and entourage, and in an EFE wire service story. The prosecutors say it started with unspecified mentions in the social media: “The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office is initiating an ex officio investigation into the possible commission of the crime of embezzlement to the detriment of the ACP, due to publication on social networks about contracting for a program for the management of processes is indicated in the sum of 14 million.”

The program, which from a Martinelli appointee to the ACP board’s version involved apparent add-ons to total $15.7 million, was bought from Quintiq, a Dutch subsidiary of the French company Dassault Systèmes. Quintiq’s website emphasizes its cloud computing prowess. Some of its major traffic control program customers are the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the DHL courier service and the Copenhagen airport. The ACP board was told about talks with the company in 2016 and was informed that the purchase has been made in April of the next year.

One would expect that with a traffic control program coming into use, PanCanal pilots and tug captains would at least be told about it, if not trained in its use. It might be a matter of the ACP corporate culture, but so far none of these employees are acknowledging that they knew anything about it. The program was never used. An internal ACP audit of the matter is said to have been done, with nothing amiss found.

This was when Jorge Luis Quijano was canal administrator. He left that job nearly a year ago, according to a normal rotation. He is nominated to take over as the top administrator of the Metro commuter train system but that has not come before the National Assembly. Depending on how the investigation goes, it might not.

This matter appears to be a preliminary investigation, with nobody charged with a crime, or even the existence of a crime alleged. However, it’s unusual for the Public Ministry to mention an investigation that’s not serious. Stay tuned.


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