Thursday 18th April 2024.

April 17, 2024


With the May 5 elections quickly approaching, Panama District Mayor José Luis Fábrega finds himself in the center of public attention. His management is reflected in a considerable staff, made up of 6,032 officials and surprisingly, more than a quarter of this staff, exactly 1,606 individuals , play roles as promoters or assistants to community promoters.

This is a higher figure if we take into account that at the end of the term of former mayor José Isabel Blandón (2014-2019) , the payroll was around 3,500 officials and of that total, the number of community promoters was approximately 350.

The above represents an increase of 72.3% in the overall payroll of the Municipality of Panama and an increase of 359% in the hiring of the controversial figure of the community promoter.

In fact, councilors such as Ricardo Domínguez, from the town of Bella Vista , and Guillermo Bermúdez, from the town of Don Bosco and also a candidate for mayor for the capital district, have described these new appointments as “political”, since Fábrega aspires to be re-elected in the Mayor’s Office of Panama.

Bermúdez denounced in the last session of the Municipal Council of Panama that there are community boards related to Fábrega that have hundreds of officials.

Deputy Edison Broce, candidate for Mayor of Panama through free nomination and whose candidacy is supported by the Other Path Movement (MOCA), speaks along the same lines , who stressed that for two years he has denounced that these appointments are merely political. .

“That is politicization of the payroll. It is a function [community promoter] that allows them opacity. Part of my plan, if I become mayor, is to review this issue in the first six months. “All the bottles go outside,” he pointed out.

In the last three months and in the midst of the electoral campaign, the payroll of the Municipality of Panama has experienced notable growth. For example, in January 2024 the number of officials in that local government was 4,634, while in February it reached the number of 5,584. The last report for the month of March showed the number of 6,032 collaborators.

Most community promoters receive a monthly salary between $600 and $700.

Although the specific function of the new officials is unknown, if they were community promoters, the additional budget to support these 448 positions would be between $268,000 and $313,000 per month.

Organizations such as the Urban Citizen Network of Panama have stated that these statistics demonstrate the “clientelism” in which the public administration is immersed.

The next government faces the challenge of selecting five new directors for the board of directors of the Panama Canal.

Filling those shoes will be a complex task, considering the nature of the entity and that three of the current directors, who complete their mandate in 2025, have provided balance in decisions related to corporate law, the financial world and engineering.

These three directors, Francisco Sierra, Óscar Ramírez and Ricardo Arango, assumed their positions in 2016.

Sierra, currently general manager of the largest bank in the area from the private sphere, has experience in banking and finance. Ramírez is recognized as one of the most experienced structural engineers in Panama, while Arango is a lawyer specialized in mergers, acquisitions and capital markets.

The profile of these three directors would have generated a certain balance, understanding that they approve decisions in an entity with numerous contracts and suppliers, litigation, and the responsibility of maintaining a monumental engineering infrastructure, as well as investment projects that will exceed $8,000 million in the next five years.

In addition to these three directors, two additional changes occur with each change of presidential administration.

One of them is the director appointed by the Executive, who presides over the board of directors and holds the rank of Minister of State for Canal Affairs.

The other is the director appointed by the legislative branch, who can be freely appointed or dismissed by it.

Currently, the board’s president and minister for Canal Affairs is Aristides Royo, who took office on July 1, 2019. This position lasts for five years .

Regarding deputy Roberto Ábrego, representative of the National Assembly, he resigned from his position on the board of directors of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in October 2023.

He vacated his board seat due to a rule that prevented him from remaining in office while he campaigned for re-election in his circuit, for the upcoming May 5 election.

The board of directors is made up of 11 directors, whose appointment is made as follows: in addition to the last two mentioned, another nine directors are appointed by the President of the Republic with the consent of the Cabinet Council and ratification by an absolute majority of the members. of the Legislative Assembly.

The directors serve in their positions for a term of 9 years, and may be removed only for the reasons established in Article 20 of the Organic Law of the Panama Canal Authority.

Of the current board of directors, Enrique Sánchez, Jorge González, Nicolás González Revilla, Dora María Pérez Balladares, Laury Melo and Luis Navas will continue in their positions, with different expiration years.

Exactly a month ago, the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) announced to the country the start of construction of the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal. There was great expectation. It was a complex work, understanding that it went through changes in its design, scope and reforms in the amount, after its execution became independent of line 3 of the Panama Metro.

The construction of the bridge, with a length of 3.6 kilometers including the East and West accesses and with six traffic lanes, will cost $1,372.16 million and during its construction it will generate more than 3,500 jobs.

This was what the Minister of Public Works, Rafael Sabonge, emphasized, who visited the work a month ago, together with the Minister of Economy, Héctor Alexander; and President Laurentino Cortizo , to be immortalized in the photos of the beginning of the work.

But neither Sabonge, nor Alexander, nor Cortizo include in their narratives what the bridge will really cost after perfecting what they call “financial engineering,” that is, when the financing that the contractor will be responsible for while the State ends up paying is accounted for. the debt, in installments, until the year 2032.

It is a work that basically applies under the figure of turnkey: build now and pay later.

According to the project addendum, whose inspection process through the Comptroller General of the Republic took place in April 2023, the contractual price of the project is $2,138.9 million, including the taxes that must be paid by the consortium in charge of the jobs.

The project documents, certainly, indicate that in the design and construction line, considering the payment of taxes, $1,372 million have been accounted for, but in addition up to $716 million have been contemplated in the financing price.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) will be in charge of paying the work to the Panama Fourth Bridge Consortium made up of China Communications Construction Company LTD and China Harbor Engineering Company LTD, in a calendar that runs from March 2026 to March 2032.

The payments begin with the disbursement of $280.3 million, which according to the MEF programming would come from the savings generated annually in the administration that will begin next July 1.

At least that is what the Public Financing Directorate considers, when consulting it about the structure that will be used for the fourth bridge.

Around 70% of Digicel ‘s mobile customers have managed to migrate and opt for number portability to join other telecommunications companies.

This was reported by the intervened company in a statement, recalling that customers have until April 20, 2024 , that is, next Saturday to switch to another operator and not lose their cell phone line.

“ To date, 70% of prepaid and postpaid customers have successfully migrated. “Digicel customers have the option of purchasing a new prepaid chip or signing a service contract with the operator of their choice, as well as performing portability, at no cost, by visiting any of the points enabled by the other two mobile telephone operators.” , he told the company. According to the National Authority of Public Services (ASEP) , Digitel had 330 thousand clients.

Last March , ASEP announced the definitive cessation of Digicel’s operations, after failing to give the concession to another operator on two occasions.

“This reminder arises as a result of the closing of the Public Tender process No. 01-2023-Telco by the National Authority of Public Services, which had the objective of granting a new concession to operate and exploit the Service provided by Digicel (Panama ), SA, without a new concession being awarded,” the recent statement indicated.

Currently, there are only two operating companies left in Panama: TIGO and Más Móvil, both of which have been offering plans and offers to attract the more than 330 thousand customers that Digicel had.

The Panamanian economy will suffer a slowdown and although it will have positive growth, the boost in gross domestic product (GDP) will be less than in 2023 when it increased to 7.3%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The reason, the impact of the closure of the mine in addition to the consequences of the reduction in income from the Canal due to restrictions on transit due to the drought.

“As a result of the mine closure, GDP growth is projected to decline to 2.5% in 2024, before gradually improving in the medium term,” the IMF had advanced on March 4 in a preliminary report.

Panama faces this year not only the challenge of mine closure, but also the electoral period and recently the loss of investment grade by Fitch .

In this context, the projections were presented this week by the International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Outlook report , which details that for this year 2024, Panama’s GDP is expected to grow 2.5% and by 2025 it will recover a little to reach 3%. .


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