Friday 23rd September 2022.

September 23, 2022

José Gabriel Carrizo , Vice President of the Republic and Minister of the Presidency, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) on the afternoon of this Thursday, September 22, 2022. During his speech, Carrizo listed the “priorities” of the current administration. “The purpose of our administration is to lay the foundations for a fairer country, consolidate democracy and strengthen the independence of justice,” he said at the beginning of his speech. He took a few minutes to bring up the subject of justice. He spoke of the selection process for magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) that the government of President Laurentino Cortizo has used during his administration. “For the first time the president, as head of the Executive, dispenses with his prerogative to appoint the magistrates of the CSJ and establishes an independent assessment system based on professional merits,” said Carrizo. He highlighted that, for the first time, the majority of the main positions of the Court are occupied by women. He also referred to the pandemic and its impacts on Panamanian society and economy. “We concentrate our efforts on saving lives, avoiding the collapse of the health system, and maintaining social peace,” said the vice president. He referred to the wave of protests that the country experienced last July. However, he assured that they have managed to “guarantee social peace.” He referred to the dialogue processes, both the Bicentennial Pact and the dialogue tables that resulted from the social crisis. The vice president raised the critical issue of the high cost of medicines in Panama to the global stage. He referred to “the prohibitive costs” that the population must face. “An accessible medicine is the difference between life and death,” said Carrizo from the podium. “Such a system that shames humanity cannot continue,” he argued about “oligopolies that generate disproportionate profits… access to medicines must be valued as a human right, and not as an expensive and luxury commodity.” He called for a global policy to solve the high cost of medicines. He dedicated a few minutes of his speech, which was short compared to other of his counterparts, to talk about the environment. He repeated something that Cortizo has said in previous interventions on the same stage: that Panama is a carbon negative country. He spoke of the importance of guaranteeing and safeguarding biodiversity. “How can we win the trust of the new generations when we are decimating in their eyes the planet where we live and their descendants must live,” said Carrizo towards the end of his speech. Although at the end of his speech Carrizo called for dialogue as a path to peace, he did not directly mention the war in Ukraine during his speech. Neither did he refer directly to the threats to democracy that exist in the Latin American region. The country’s vice president was the sixth speaker in the afternoon session on the third day of interventions. This is the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. In parallel, forums and meetings are held. Panamanian Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes has held meetings this week with her counterparts from the region and the world. In addition, she has represented Panama in forums on the environment. From the Presidency of the Republic they clarified that Carrizo was “designated” by Cortizo to address the General Assembly. The reasons why the president did not travel were not detailed. They also detailed that Carrizo did not hold bilateral meetings and that he covered his own transportation expenses.

The National Assembly insists on shielding the extraordinary tax credits granted to investors in tourism projects, despite the commitment to repeal them that the Executive acquired last July, in the midst of street protests and strikes that paralyzed the country for almost a month. Last Wednesday, September 21, the Economy and Finance Commission , chaired by deputy Ricardo Torres , approved bill 888 in the first debate. Said bill maintains the tax credit of between 60% and 100%, for tourism investments. that are carried out outside the district of Panama. These extraordinary credits were created by the Assembly through Laws 122 of 2019 and 314 of 2022 . The citizen repudiation forced the government of Laurentino Cortizo to promote its repeal. And so he did: on August 1, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Federico Alfaro , brought a bill to the National Assembly to repeal Laws 122 and 314. Subsequently, Deputy Melchor Herrera , who coincidentally was the original proponent of Law 314, presented Bill 888 on September 7. That legislative initiative, although it came after the Executive, was already approved in the first debate by the Economy and Finance Commission (Alfaro’s is, by the way, in the Commerce and Economic Affairs Commission). The Trade and Economic Affairs Commission reported that this Thursday the discussion of the project that Minister Alfaro led will begin. Melchor Herrera’s is already in line for the second debate, in the legislative plenary session.

The Ministry of Public Works (MOP) delivered the orders to proceed with two turnkey contracts in the North Panama sector that add up to 65 million dollars, including the cost of financing. The MOP minister, Rafael Sabonge, indicated that the projects to be carried out in the next 24 months will be the expansion to 4 lanes of the Transístmica highway, between the Villa Grecia sector and the Don Bosco bridge; and the construction of a road interchange and return in the Cabima area. The expansion to 4 lanes will be carried out by the companies Ingeniería y Remodelaciones and Constructora Rodsa for 41.3 million dollars, while the Costa Rican company Meco will build the interchange for 23.7 million dollars. These contracts are part of the list of 25 projects with financing included that the MOP tenders for the order of one thousand 250 million dollars.

The deputies of the National Assembly do not give up and, despite the citizen’s rejection, they insist on creating more corregimientos. At least four bills are awaiting in the Legislative to give life to 20 districts and, with this, new community boards would be born in the country. In the Ngäbe Buglé region, for example, 16 would be created. This is if a proposal presented by deputy Leopoldo Archibold, who creates 10, and another promoted by deputy Ricardo Santos, who proposes six, are approved. Meanwhile, Deputy Petita Ayarza promotes three new areas in the Guna Yala region; meanwhile, an initiative of deputy Olivares Frías gives life to a township in La Villa de Los Santos. The communal boards have been in the public eye during the last governments, as they have been recipients of secret millionaire deputies, money managed in different official institutions that is generally used for patronage practices. In addition, the citizens questioned the multiple privileges that some mayors and corregimiento representatives had, such as hefty travel expenses, paid leave and meals Last Tuesday, Eliécer Montenegro, president of the National Coordinator of Representatives and president of the Western Panama Provincial Council, told the Assembly Budget Committee that they need an additional $9 million to the figure recommended by the Ministry of Economy and Finance ( $38.6 million) in order to increase the salary of all the representatives of the country.

The First Superior Court of the First Judicial District declared the protection of constitutional guarantees promoted by a group of citizens against the agreement of the Municipal Council of Panama, which authorized Mayor José Luis Fábrega to convene the public act for the construction of the new seafood market. The decision was made on September 20. “There is a possibility that Fábrega will make his seafood market. They denied us protection,” commented Luis Pinedo, one of those who promoted the appeal along with Blanca Solís, Gerónimo Espitia, Joaquín Bernal and Julio Stoute. This group of citizens maintains that there are irregularities in the citizen consultation process for the seafood market project, which was held on November 11, 2020. They recalled that only 25 people appeared, two of whom are officials from the Mayor’s Office of Panama. In addition, the consultation was only carried out in the township of Calidonia and its call was not disclosed.The Eighteenth Civil Court had ordered last April the provisional suspension of the defendant municipal agreement. But, with the  ruling of the Court it is without effect.Pinedo explained that the Supreme Court of Justice still needs to rule on another appeal filed against the market. Fábrega, despite the resources, twice called for a bid for the new market at a cost of $43 million. However, they were declared void due to lack of proponents.

In October, the airline Air Panama will resume regular flights between the Marcos A. Gelabert airport (Albrook) and the city of Pedasí, in the province of Los Santos, one of the main tourist destinations in the country. Eduardo Stagg, president of the airline, commented that they will start with three weekly round trip flights (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday). He explained that to cover the route they will use a Caravan aircraft with capacity for 12 passengers. The executive said that the airline has been covering the route with charter flights, but due to the increase in demand, they decided to resume regular operations, with a projection in the short and medium term of operating a daily flight to Pedasí, which stands out for the natural attraction of Iguana Island, Venao Beach and its culture. In addition to the three flights a week, Air Panama will continue with charter trips to Pedasí.During the relaunch of the route, the administrator of the Tourism Authority of Panama, Iván Eskildsen, reiterated that Pedasí is one of the eight priority destinations within the updated tourism master plan until the year 2025,  adding that through the financing granted by the Inter-American Development Bank for $100 million to improve tourism infrastructure in the country, docks will be built on Iguana Island and on El Arenal beach.A bike lane and a visitor center will also be built, and Pedasí’s central plaza will be renovated. In total, it is planned to invest $25 million in improvements in the destination.  For his part, Gustavo Pérez, director of the Civil Aeronautical Authority, commented that the Pedasí airport is in a condition to carry out operations day and night.

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