Tuesday 9th July 2024.

July 8, 2024


Irma Hernández , mayor of the municipality of San Miguelito , did not find a cashback form in the municipality she leads, but she did find what she called “ cashback appointments .”

He explained it this way: “Some official who had a pension benefit, wanted to keep this benefit and put another person to collect it for him. That is, people who were not necessarily working in the institution who collected a check to help another person. Individual cashback appointments .”

The announcement of the new head of the metropolitan district took place at a press conference held on Monday, July 8, to present administrative aspects of the commune and its work plan.

Hernández also reported that they identified some payrolls used for contracts or that had a validity period until June 30. “These contracts have not been updated by the current administration, which is why we are identifying a reduction,” he said.

The municipality’s income, he added, is in an “extremely delicate” situation. “We are experiencing a huge deficit. More is spent than is received and there is very little collection,” he said, and then explained that they are restructuring the methodologies that were in place for the management of collections, among others. “Our inspectors will have a new report that will identify them and implement their digital cards. All so that our taxpayers can have confidence,” he said.

In total, they found seven forms , with a total of 1,250 people. The expenditure in this area exceeds $1 million, but the income from the tax is $600 thousand.

Irma Hernández, a 28-year-old lawyer, assumed the mayoralty of San Miguelito on July 2 after winning the elections on May 5. She replaces Héctor Valdés Carrasquilla , of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, who dominated the commune for several periods. The irregularities detected in San Miguelito add to the complaints made by multiple local government authorities who took office on July 2. One of them is the mayor of the capital district, Mayer Mizrachi, who revealed the existence of a cashback payroll, of people 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.

Following complaints made by the current mayor, Mayer Mizrachi, about administrative irregularities detected in the Municipality of Panama , former mayor José Luis Fábrega issued a statement urging that all evidence be presented to the competent authorities.

Fábrega, who lost to Mizrachi in his bid for re-election, said that his administration during these five years was criticized in an “unfair” way by the media and political opponents. He also mentioned that they were subjected to a blockade to prevent their projects from being carried out, and that they even had a recall of his mandate that in the end did not receive the 8% approval rate, he said.

Fábrega’s reaction came after Mizrachi revealed one of the findings detected in the administration of the capital municipality: a cashback payroll , of people who were appointed to ‘certain communal councils’ where they were paid a salary, but a part of this emolument had to be given to the “godfather” who got them the appointment.

Mizrachi, 35, took office as mayor of Panama on July 2, after winning the post in the elections of May 5 of this year. He replaces Fábrega, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, who increased the number of candidates in his five years in office.

In 2019, Fábrega received the Municipality of Panama with a payroll of 3,564 officials, including permanent and temporary employees.

By May 2024, there were already 6,380 employees; that is, between 2019 and 2024, the payroll grew by 79%.

Of this total, 20% are community promoters or assistant promoters.

In fact, a statement from the Municipality of Panama reported that the new mayor eliminated 75 “unnecessary” positions, which implies a monthly saving of 56,800 dollars.

In addition, it was reported that the municipality terminated 2,200 contracts, which represents a savings of almost $2 million per month.

Security Minister Frank Ábrego denounced that the entity has debts of $54 million and that there are no funds to cover expired debts.

Ábrego, through his social networks, stressed that they do not have the necessary resources to meet their financial obligations, and that other expired terms were not processed in time.

He also explained that, following instructions from the president, José Raúl Mulino , they are seeking funds to address this economic reality.

He also explained that they have started talks with the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) to achieve the transfer of funds to address this situation, and then go to the Budget Commission of the National Assembly for the respective approval.

For the year 2024, the Ministry of Public Security was allocated a budget of $946 million, of which $900 million correspond to operations and $46 million to investment.

A large part of the Ministry of Public Security’s budget is directed towards the purchase of equipment and materials for security forces and maintenance.

Ábrego also refuted a series of accusations regarding alleged violations against migrants on the Panamanian side.

The official responded to statements made by the director of Colombian Migration, Carlos Fernández García, who said that violations against migrants occurred on the Panamanian side of the border.

In this regard, he alleged that insurgent groups and criminal gangs such as the Clan del Golfo are responsible for the large number of acts of violence that are recorded in the region.

The Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, revealed what would be a premature diagnosis of the current state of the Ministry of Education (Meduca). In terms of finances and administration, she highlighted several irregularities and questionable decisions that have taken place in recent years.

In an interview with Panama en Directo , Molinar explained that Panama paid one of the highest costs in the world for internet in schools during the pandemic, despite being one of the countries that provided the least attention to its students during that period.

In addition, the minister criticized the excessive and disproportionate salary increases and hiring that took place before her arrival. “ For example, in a school there is a secretary who earns $600 dollars and the lady who is a cleaner earns $2,000 . Explain this to me.” In this way, she questioned part of the legacy she inherited from the administration of Laurentino Cortizo and Minister Maruja Gorday.

Molinar also addressed the problem of wasting funds on consultancies and other unnecessary expenses.

He presented the case of 33 consultants hired to manage an $80 million loan, with salaries of between $4,000 and $5,000 . He also revealed the case of a consultancy worth more than $1.9 million to evaluate whether it was convenient to have sports in schools.

He said that from January to June of this year, more than 7,800 staff movements were made, including transfers and hirings.

The institutions that increased the total number of officials in April 2024 compared to April 2023 are mainly: the Ministry of Education with 3,879; the Ministry of Public Security with 930; the Electoral Tribunal (TE) with 536; the Attorney General’s Office with 524 and the Judicial Branch with 376.

Meanwhile, the gross salary of Meduca officials in April 2024 rose to $112.5 million, compared to $101.6 million in April 2023.

The minister pointed out that during the last decade, power within Meduca fell more into the hands of deputies and other political actors than in the institutional structure itself. “A regional director appointed by a deputy, a friend or a party is not the same as someone who earned his position through personal merit.”

To reverse this situation, the Cabinet Council approved a competition for the selection of regional directors, led by the National Association of Human Resources (Anrec), which aims to ensure that positions are filled on the basis of merit and not political connections.

Molinar also advocates for the constant evaluation of teachers and the continuous improvement of the educational system. However, she was critical of Panama’s participation in the PISA tests due to their high cost.

The President of the Republic, José Raúl Mulino, has accepted the proposal to begin an integration process into the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) , after his participation in the recent meeting of heads of state of the bloc, held this Monday in Paraguay.

Mulino described the invitation as a historic opportunity for Panama to integrate into one of the world’s largest economies, highlighting the importance of the country’s financial and logistical connections, including the operation of the Panama Canal.

“I believe in integration because we are nothing alone in the world. Our country has a world of connections and access to important cities in the world such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea,” said Mulino.

During his speech, he asked the presidents of the Mercosur member countries to outline the route that Panama must follow to fully integrate. He assured that the process will be agreed upon and coordinated with the private sector.

Mulino took the opportunity to mention the construction of the Panama-Chiriquí train as an opportunity that could unite all of Central America.

He also mentioned the channeling of the Indio River to ensure the water supply to the Panama Canal during dry seasons, and the construction of a third runway at the international airport to strengthen the Hub of the Americas.

He also announced that three new investment projects in the Canal, not related to transit, will soon be revealed.

Mulino also asked for support from Mercosur countries to remove Panama from discriminatory tax lists. “I will fight for justice to be done for Panama. It is unthinkable that we are good for the international community in one way and not in others. It makes no sense and I will not tolerate it,” he said.

Irregular migration did not go unnoticed during Mulino’s first official trip. The president asked for support for Panama’s efforts to control this crisis, which involves migrants from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Haiti.

Mulino said drug cartels and organized crime are implicated in the problem, which costs the country more than $100 million annually and causes serious environmental problems.

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