Monday 16th January 2023.

January 16, 2023

The Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (Cciap) reiterated its call, especially to the President of the Republic, Laurentino Cortizo , to seek solutions to save the Disability, Old Age and Death Program (IVM) of the Social Security Fund (CSS). In its weekly message to the country, the private sector recalled the notorious urgency that the situation requires and that all the critical elements have been exposed in order to evaluate the alternatives to rescue the program. “It is time to make critical decisions, no matter how difficult they may be, because as a country we cannot face the adverse consequences of continuing to delay taking action,” is reflected in part of the Cciap statement. The business union reiterates that decisions must be in the direction of three fundamental objectives: prevent poverty in old age, guarantee the financial sustainability of an equitable pension program and include the participation of workers and employers through voluntary savings to improve the pensions. “Mr. President, satisfactorily addressing the CSS issue could become the main legacy of your administration. Looking back on what should have been done in previous periods does not generate value. We Panamanians need your leadership to resolve the situation above any political consideration, or of any other nature that is different from seeking the well-being of the country”, the message highlights. In the same way, the Cciap emphasizes that the transformation of social security must have a scope beyond the IVM program. They argue that the CSS requires a reinvention, with an efficient internal corporate governance, away from politicking and that optimizes the services that users receive. “However, we cannot aspire to start this transformation if we do not take the first step to ensure the continuity of the pension and retirement program,” highlights the business sector. So far there is no defined date for the dialogue table by the Social Security Fund (CSS) to be reactivated, after more than a year without meeting. On January 5, the general director of the CSS, Enrique Lau Cortés, affirmed that they are waiting for the International Labor Organization (ILO) to come to Panama. “I think they should refine their agenda, we are on that path,” he commented on that occasion. The reason for stopping the discussions in the dialogue by the CSS in December 2021 was to wait for the diagnosis of the IVM by the ILO.

The sanitary landfill of Cerro Patacón, in the township of Ancón, has been described by environmentalists, human rights defenders and the authorities themselves as an ecological disaster. Currently, the Government has not decided what to do with the concession that the Urbalia company has, to manage the waste disposal center in Panama and San Miguelito. The concession ends on March 23 and the uncertainty worries entities such as the Ombudsman’s Office. In 2022, the human rights defense entity filed a complaint against Urbalia, for the alleged commission of environmental crimes and against public health. That time, the Ombudsman, Eduardo Leblanc, stressed that in a decade of concession, the company accumulated 89 administrative processes, and continues to “damage” the environment and health. Bolívar Rodríguez, director of Ecological Affairs of the Ombudsman’s Office, reported that, from that moment to date, several proceedings have been carried out, in conjunction with the Public Ministry and the Urban and Home Cleaning Authority (AAUD). “It can be said that the process has made important progress,” he said. In the words of Rodríguez, it is “very notable” that there is environmental damage to water sources, soil, air quality and vegetation in the area. “We feel that the management of this sanitary landfill is out of control and the Ombudsman’s Office is very concerned, since they are talking about the renewal or non-renewal of the contract with the company. The concern that is obvious now is what the government’s plan is on this issue,” the official pointed out. In his opinion, the “damage” to the area has already been done and right now there is a limbo about the future of this landfill.“Patacón has already collapsed and this area must be rescued, because it cannot remain like this. You have to make a well-structured plan to recover this place, ”he said.  What does seem certain is that, with or without Urbalia, the AAUD’s plan is to continue using Cerro Patacón as an open-air dump, because no effort has been made to dispose of the garbage elsewhere. In the complaint presented by the Ombudsman, it is mentioned, for example, that among the 89 administrative processes opened against Urbalia there are 22 files related to the construction and maintenance of access roads, two on the disposal of hospital waste, 17 related to the proper disposal of solid waste and 19 on mismanagement of leachate and its discharge into nearby bodies of water.

Lawyer Guillermo Cochez submitted a request to the Public Ministry, after the newspaper La Prensa reported that in the offices of the private supermarket chain Super 99, owned by the Martinelli family, safes with gold, silver, money and documents containing information related to legal proceedings were found. Cochez wants to know if a crime is being committed and if there are merits to initiate a formal investigation. The lawyer made the request last Friday, January 13, through a note addressed to the attorney general in charge, Javier Caraballo. He specifies that the content of the news signed by the journalist Rolando Rodríguez, titled Gold, silver and money were found in the Super 99 safes , published in the January 11, 2023 edition of La Prensa , should be investigated . It adds that the report “also outlines that several files known to the Public Ministry and the Judicial Branch were found in said safes,” which were in the private offices of former President Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal (2009-2014), in Super 99. For this reason, he asked Caraballo to “initiate rigorous procedures to determine the existence or not of any punishable conduct.” The journalistic report by La Prensa arose after the digital outlet Foco revealed the contents of the hard drive of the computer of Adolfo Chichi de Obarrio, who was Martinelli’s private secretary. Among the findings, according to the news, are a “folder with information related to [Jean] Fegali and his bank accounts”; a folder “of the company Gaming and Service of Panama, SA” and a folder “with information related to the company Shelf Holding, Inc.”, linked to former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares (1994-1999), who -during his government- appointed and then ordered the dismissal of Martinelli as director of the Social Security Fund (CSS).

Those who talk about politics and give their opinion as “political scientists” must have a “suitability”. Otherwise, they will be penalized with fines of up to $5,000. This is stated in a bill presented in the National Assembly four months ago, but which has now received momentum. The Labor, Health and Social Development Commission of the National Assembly dusted off this week the bill, which seeks to regulate the profession of “political scientist” in the country. The initiative, which was presented in September 2022, through the Citizen Participation Directorate by Ronaldo Bukanan, according to data from the Assembly, was endorsed this week and awaits its first debate in said commission, led by PRD deputy Daniel Ramos and of which the deputy and president of the National Assembly, the PRD member Crispiano Adames, is also a part. The proposal establishes, as a requirement to be a political scientist, having a university diploma in political science issued by the Faculty of Law and Political Science of public or private universities duly accredited or foreign. The titles of the latter must be revalidated by the University of Panama (UP). In addition, it creates a “Technical Board of Political Science of Panama”, which may grant suitability so that this profession can be practiced in the country, for a period of two renewable years. It also points out that the profession can only be exercised by Panamanians. For political analyst José Stoute, the proposal is “absolutely unnecessary.” He assured that a political scientist is anyone who has a degree in political science. Therefore, he said that “said bill is a crude attempt to silence the voices and critical opinions of citizens, when not to intimidate those who give their opinion on the national reality.”“There is no doubt that they are paving the  way towards a dictatorship. It is about an alarming reduction in citizen liberties.The same opinion was expressed by the political analyst Edwin Cabrera, when he pointed out that it seemed that there was nothing important to discuss in the Legislature.  He classified it as a “maneuver” the creation of a technical board to give qualifications.“It is nothing more than trying to regulate political opinions. That is what underlies it: wanting to regulate what people think and say. Citizens have every right to make a right or wrong political analysis about the  national reality and even about the Legislative body. They want to try to regulate and restrict the right to express an opinion, ”he said.

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