Editorials: Pass the damned budget! and Is this a job for ICE?

Nito can sign what the National Assembly passes, or not. Plus he has the power to veto parts of what is sent to him. Then, both he and the legislature have the power to spare us the drama and expense of a special legislative session over the budget. Photo by the Presidencia.

Pass a budget, without the extra games

Panama’s political system is awful in many respects, but as it was designed as a political patronage pork barrel it was also set up not to collapse over the expected arguments over who gets what.

If the National Assembly can’t agree on a budget, the previous year’s budget continues in effect. There would be an inconvenience to be corrected, but no Washington-style “shut down the government” threat.

The “riders” inserted into a “must-pass” pieces of legislation, ensuring that what’s needed can’t happen unless those rancid little pork balls are part of the deal? But the president has a line-item veto. This legislature is unpopular even in comparison to other disliked assemblies. The ambitions and disgust within the Legislative Palace combine to raise the probability that a sneaky little move gets leaked to and exposed in the press. Figure that Nito will use his veto pen to scratch out a few things that need to be scratched out.

Presidential vetoes can be and sometimes are overridden.

When the veto is popular and the legislator wanting to override it is not, sending in a suplente to cast the unpopular override vote is one of the methods historically used. That’s generally done by deputies who want to be re-elected, but a great electoral massacre is shaping up. Figure that this means, first, that there will be some members of the National Assembly also making their exit plans and amassing what they can before they leave; and second, that some of the suplentes see the handwriting on the wall and are making their own plans to run for office, which getting drafted into infamy would risk.

Once the clock hits the midnight between October 31 and November 1, everything on the legislative agenda turns into smashed pumpkin goo and dies unless and until taken up in a new legislative session. That would be either in January or before then if and only if the president calls a special session. Only the business in the presidential call can be taken up in a special session.

The legislature should pass a budget. It should not include things like the special tax breaks for hotel construction that the president has condemned, special slush funds for the deputies and their families and friends, or extra funding to put PRD members on the payroll while the gravy train is still running. The deputies should refrain from such stuff even if they might be able to force the president to sign off on it.

Pass a budget before October ends, one that the president can sign. Then the legislators can show the nation some true mercy, by going into hiding until January. Leave bad enough alone, for a change.


The tale we are told of how her daughter got a tennis scholarship to a school in the USA but how Zulay and her PanCanal pilot husband needed another $61,000 from IFARHU to cover the costs sounds suspect from several angles, and ought to get closer scrutiny, both in Panama and in the USA. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional, cropped by The Panama News.

It’s Panama’s scholarship fund for politicians to loot, but…

Other countries don’t have to admit foreign students entry to study on misappropriated funds.

US colleges and universities have often recruited the children of the political leaders of kleptocracies. Their endowment funds might hit the jackpot that way. They might get foreign heads of state as alumni.

The way it’s often practiced is, however, is a form of money laundering that makes the United States look bad to the rest of the world. It also injects a dose of moral rot into the cultures of American higher education.

So, what to do about recent revelations about corruption in Panama’s IFARHU government scholarship program? What if the fund has been looted by politicians to send their kids and those of upscale friends, relatives — and even their lawyers — to study abroad, generally at elite schools in the United States?

Panamanians need to deal with it, first and foremost by not electing Zulay Rodríguez as our next president. We should also take a number of additional corrective actions.

In the USA the solution is easier. Visas need to be revoked. The best procedure? The State Department revokes the visas and informs the beneficiaries of stolen Panamanian funds by sending ICE agents to pull them out of their upscale classrooms and put them on planes back to Panama.


Archbishop Tutu at the 2011 climate summit in Durban. Photo by Kristen Opalinski.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Desmond Tutu

Bear in mind…

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.

Carrie Fisher

There’s no point in hiring smart people and telling them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.

Lily Tomlin



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