Friday 15th September 2023.

September 14, 2023


The Presidency of the Republic announced this Thursday afternoon that President Laurentino Cortizo and his ministers agreed to withdraw the project that repeals the 2002 transparency law and replaces it with a new rule that limited access to public information.

“In democracy you have to listen, dialogue. I have been a president who understands what democracy is, the separation of powers,” said Cortizo Cohen.

Bill 1031, promoted by the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (Antai) , had been widely rejected by twenty professional organizations and unions. Even the Attorney General of the Administration, Rigoberto González, and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) had warned how inconvenient it was and that it represented a setback in terms of access to public information. Everyone asked Cortizo to remove him from the National Assembly, where he was already being discussed for the first debate, in the Government, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Commission.

Antai, which was accused of promoting the proposal without consultation, was always reluctant to withdraw the project and this week even proposed some modifications, in an attempt to get it to advance through legislative channels.

Cortizo, who this week had met with members of the National Council of Journalism (CNP) and the Forum of Journalists for Freedom of Expression and Information , listened to the claims and promised to take action. “Go calmly,” he told them. Last week he had also said that he had no problem with leaving Law 6 of 2002 on transparency.

Finally, this Thursday, the Cabinet Council approved withdrawing bill 1031.

As the project was presented to the Assembly by the Minister of the Presidency, José Simpson , on April 27, it will be up to him to inform the Legislature that the proposal is no longer valid.

Cortizo recalled that in January 2019, as a presidential candidate, he signed the Transparency Challenge. Then, in 2020, as President of the Republic, he signed the Chapultepec Declaration on freedom of the press and expression and became the first president to sign the 2018 Salta Declaration , on principles of freedom of expression in the digital age.

The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) did not admit a protection of constitutional guarantees that had been presented two months ago against Cabinet Resolution 54 of June 14, 2023, through which the Cabinet Council approved the law contract agreed with Minera Panamá and authorized it to be presented to the Assembly by the Minister of Commerce and Industries, Federico Alfaro .

The Court’s ruling, with a presentation by Cecilio Cedalise , was endorsed by all the main magistrates that make up the plenary session. Although the decision was adopted on August 25, it was known this Thursday, when it was disclosed via edict by the general secretariat of the CSJ.

The amparo was presented by the lawyer María Gabriela Dutari , from the Environmental Advocacy Center (Ciam) , on July 17; it included a request for provisional suspension, arguing that there was no proper citizen consultation.

Ciam precisely promoted the lawsuit against the 1997 contract that authorized mining exploitation in Donoso, which was declared unconstitutional in 2018, by the plenary session of the CSJ.

The contract proposed by the Executive is currently before the Commerce Commission of the National Assembly, the body that is responsible for approving the document in the first debate.

The commission is carrying out consultations and announced that on September 19 it will move to the concession area, in Donoso.

Aristides Royo, Minister for Panama Canal Affairs, and the administrator of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) , Ricaurte Vásquez, supported the Budget Commission of the National Assembly, the item of income and expenses of the entity for the year 2024.

The budget contemplates income in the order of 4,776.5 million dollars and operating expenses of 1,542 million dollars.

The ACP calculates that the direct contributions to the State will be in the order of 2 thousand 470.8 million dollars and other payments will be made for 247.9 million, during the fiscal period that extends from October 1, 2023 to September 30, 2024.

The ACP administrator recently pointed out that, due to the reduction in draft and transits (which went from 38 vessels per day to 32 vessels), a drop in revenue for fiscal year 2024 of 200 million dollars is estimated.

Due to the crisis due to lack of water, the Panama Canal progressively decreased, to 44 feet or 13.41 meters, the maximum draft in the neopanamax locks.

By 2024, transits could be reduced even further, to a daily average of between 30 and 31 ships per day, given the critical situation due to the lack of rain to improve the level of the lakes that supply the interoceanic waterway. In addition, the ACP calculates that 1,515 fewer transits for next year.

This week, Vásquez pointed out that the option of having another water reservoir in the Indio River is the most viable and the entity is working on presenting the formal proposal to the Executive, with the corresponding socioeconomic study, on the number of people who live in that area and who would be affected by the construction of a reservoir.

The Budget Commission of the National Assembly, at 3:50 pm and after listening to the arguments of the ACP authorities and giving the opportunity for several deputies to present their questions, decided to declare a recess in the Canal budget debate , until next week.

The Supreme Court of Justice did not accept a warning of unconstitutionality presented by the defense of former president Ricardo Martinelli against article 254 of the Penal Code, which regulates the crime of money laundering and establishes the criminal types that can be classified as precedents to this criminal action. .

The warning was presented by Alfredo Vallarino , from Martinelli’s team of lawyers, who last July was sentenced to 128 months in prison and to pay a fine of $19.2 million for money laundering in the purchase of the shares of Editora Panamá América , SA (Epasa) . In this case, called New Business , four other people were convicted, while 10 were acquitted by criminal judge Baloisa Marquínez. This decision of the judge was appealed by the prosecution and by the defense lawyers of the convicted.

Regarding Vallarino’s warning of unconstitutionality, it was rejected in a ruling whose speaker was Judge Ángela Russo and which had the support of the other eight judges (all principal) who make up the full Court. The decision was adopted on August 8, but disclosed on September 13.

Article 254 of the Penal Code states: “Whoever, personally or through an intermediary, receives, deposits, negotiates, transfers or converts money, securities, securities, goods or other financial resources, reasonably foreseeing that they come from activities related to international bribery ( …) will be punished with a sentence of 5 to 12 years in prison.”

Among the “related activities” referred to in article 254 are also drug trafficking, embezzlement, crimes against the environment, financial crimes, extortion, contract killings, sexual trafficking, falsification of documents, theft, corruption and organized crime, among others.

Part of Martinelli’s argument would be that article 254 of the  Penal Code,  amended by Law 34 of May 8, 2015, was applied to him, which was not in force when the events for which the president was sentenced to prison occurred.

The laboratory appointments that were lost during the two days of strike by some unions in the public health system are expected to be recovered in a week.

The information was provided by the national executive director of Health Services and Benefits of the Social Security Fund (CSS), Yelkys Gill, who indicated that they are making adjustments between the laboratory and registries, reviewing the logistics to provide attention to the 11,132 people who missed their appointments.

He maintained that people should not wait 15 days to get their appointment, since these patients had their appointment on September 7 and September 8.

Among the unions that supported the force measure are the Association of Doctors, Dentists and Related Professionals of the Social Security Fund (Amoacss) and the National College of Clinical Laboratories of Panama (Conalac).

The health sector unions met yesterday Wednesday with the authorities, and the Ombudsman’s Office as mediator, in order to refine details of the roadmap to address issues such as lack of supplies, lack of medicines, working conditions, conditions economic and infrastructure.

On the subject, the representatives of the Conalac and Amoacss unions mentioned that they will be monitoring this dialogue.


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