Thursday 11th July 2024.

July 10, 2024


At least 300 officials from the National Assembly have been dismissed in recent days, said the president of that state body, Dana Castañeda .

“It hurts me, but the Assembly cannot bear this burden,” he said in an interview with Eco TV .

Castañeda promised to reduce the number of members of the legislature after taking office on July 1. According to the deputy, the Assembly “has become too small.”

A report from the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic reveals that as of April 2024, the payroll of public officials was 4,456, which represents a cost to taxpayers of $93.3 million.

Of these, 3,105 are permanent and 1,351 temporary. A figure that increased significantly when compared to January of this year, when there were 3,065 officials. At that time, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) controlled the legislature.

Last week, after the installation of a new board of directors, the corridors of the Justo Arosemena Palace were packed with officials.

Castañeda, a former undersecretary in the previous administration, said she was surprised by the number of people in the corridors.

This week, the deputy of the Vamos bench, Roberto Zúñiga , asked the General Secretariat of the Assembly to provide him with information on how many people have been dismissed to date and how many positions they have found without a person providing the service despite appearing on the list of those hired by Human Resources. In other words, how many “bottles” have they fired.

For the moment, Castañeda did not specify whether the dismissals are from the permanent payroll or from payrolls 001, 002 and 172. “They are from different payrolls,” he limited himself to saying.

He said the payroll has grown because many officials who had been hired through the personal payrolls of the deputies have been placed under the “institutional payroll.”

“That is the crux of the matter,” he said. For this reason, he reported that he signed a circular to warn that the officials designated on the lists of deputies are not eligible to remain under the umbrella of the entity, protected under the administrative career.

“There are many things that need to be improved, but it won’t happen overnight,” he said.

However, in recent days there has been criticism against Castañeda for the recent appointment of the former secretary general of that institution, Quibián Panay, as general director of Administration and Finance of the National Assembly, and of his lawyer Ceila Peñalba, administrative legal director.

In the legislative branch, there have also been various irregularities regarding the hiring of people and the management of payrolls. A recent investigation by La Prensa revealed that a total of 12 people have reported to the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) that their names appear on the Assembly ‘s payroll , even though they have never worked or withdrawn a check from that entity.

Some even appear with salaries of up to $8,900 per month. Those affected learned of this situation when they checked their digital file, which is proof of the salaries received from their employer on the electronic portal of the Social Security Fund (CSS) . In these receipts they appear as employees of the AN between October 2023 and January 2024.

A criminal complaint to investigate the alleged existence of cashback forms within the Municipality of Panama was filed on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 10, before the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office by attorneys Heraclio Bustamante and José Antonio Moncada.

The complaint seeks that the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office conduct the necessary investigations within the Municipality of Panama in order to obtain the number of employees who were allegedly benefited with appointments, but who had to give part of their salary to the person who got them the position.

Bustamante explained that it is necessary to obtain the contracts, positions and names of these officials and to verify whether they actually paid part of their salary.

He also considered that in this case the appearance of the mayor of the district of Panama, Mayer Mizrachi , should be sought to provide evidence and to obtain the version of the former mayor José Luis Fábrega , so that he can offer his version of the facts.

On July 7, Mizrachi revealed that a list of people had been identified who were appointed to certain communal councils where they were paid a salary, but part of this emolument had to be given to the “godfather” who got them the appointment.

The complaint details that in this case the community has been the victim of a possible crime of embezzlement, which is why the intervention of the Public Prosecutor’s Office has been necessary to clarify this situation.

The complaint also asks the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office to investigate other situations that have occurred within the Municipality of Panama, such as the hiring of companies to provide street and park lighting during the Christmas holidays.

They also asked for a review of the expenditures made by the Municipality of Panama for the Christmas parade.

In 2019, José Luis Fábrega received the Mayor’s Office of Panama with a payroll of 3,564 officials, including permanent and temporary employees. In May 2024, that payroll reached 6,360 employees; that is, between 2019 and 2024, the payroll grew by 79%.

The revelations made by Mayor Mizrachi join the complaints of several representatives of the provinces of Panama, Colon and the interior of the country about anomalies in the appointment of personnel, equipment and resources.

The existence of forms that were handled irregularly has also been reported in the National Assembly , including 080 and 279, which prompted investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Deputy Ernesto Cedeño , from circuit 8-4, presented in the plenary session of the National Assembly a draft law that modifies article 488 of the Criminal Procedure Code and seeks to eliminate the so-called suitable evidence within the investigations against deputies.

Cedeño, a member of the Movimiento Otro Camino (MOCA) party, explained that the appropriate evidence to admit an action in special proceedings “consecrates a true privilege that often prevents the initiation of investigations to reach knowledge of the procedural truth.”

During the legislative session, Cedeño indicated that the appropriate evidence needed to admit the proceedings against the deputies “constitutes a limitation for democracy, because all those accused must be subject to an impartial investigation and have all the guarantees existing in the national law.”

In the draft law, the amendment to article 488 would establish that “the complaint or report must be filed in writing, through a lawyer, and to be admissible it must include the following information: identity, address and signature of the complainant or reportee and his or her legal representative; identification data of the accused and his or her address; a precise, clear and detailed account of the alleged act, place and time of its occurrence, and, if possible, any other information necessary to verify the act and its legal qualification.”

The proposal states that “if the complaint or claim does not meet these requirements for its qualification, it will be rejected outright. In addition, the admissibility resolution will be issued by the plenary session of the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) within a period of no more than 10 days, counting from the corresponding distribution.”

According to Cedeño, “this is the opportunity to make a change, to tell the Panamanian people that I do not need any kind of protection. If there is evidence against a deputy, let it be investigated.”

The appropriate test was introduced by the National Assembly with Law 55 of September 21, 2012 , which modifies and adds articles to the Criminal Procedure Code relating to proceedings against members of the National Assembly.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Justice dismissed a third complaint for the alleged commission of the crime of abuse of authority against 47 deputies who approved Law 406 of October 20, 2023 , which adopted the concession contract between Minera Panamá and the Panamanian State. This, due to the lack of summary evidence.

The Minister for Canal Affairs and Secretary of Goals, José Ramón Icaza, reaffirmed that the construction of a multipurpose reservoir on the Indio River is planned to ensure the supply of water to the population. This project, if implemented, would be completed between 2030 and 2031, allowing a water transfer equivalent to 11 daily transits from the Indio River to Gatún Lake.

Icaza stressed to Telemetro Reporta that before proceeding with the execution of the project, it is important to work with local communities, understanding their needs and ensuring relocation in the same or better conditions than the current ones.

The minister also explained that the Secretariat of Goals will oversee approximately 50 key projects, including the development of water, road, health, and education infrastructure, as well as more than 700 infrastructure projects that are currently underway.

This office will not only measure budget execution, but also the impact of these projects on the population. Among the outstanding projects are the David-Panama Train, the San Miguelito cable car and the Oncology Hospital.

Icaza also referred to the participation of President José Raúl Mulino in the General Assembly of Mercosur. “A range of opportunities is opening up for Panama to be a platform for trade and service for the southern cone and to be able to integrate the south with Central America and North America,” he added.

He also highlighted that countries such as Brazil and Paraguay have the potential to contribute to the country’s agricultural development through technical assistance and genetic improvement.

Furthermore, integration into Mercosur would allow Panama to negotiate under better conditions with other economic blocs, such as the European Union.

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