Aug 2, 2014

30 Days in Office



Today marks the one-month point for President Juan Carlos Varela's time in office.  He is facing a lot of challenges, but continues to push his agenda of transparency in government and responsiveness to social issues.  

His administration swiftly responded to a temporary water crisis caused by contamination of the Rio Villa in Herrera province.  An ethanol processing plant established during Ricardo Martinelli's administration has been charged for the contamination.  Forty times the acceptable concentration of Atrazina, a pesticide, as well as  by-products related to the ethanol production process were found in the river. An environmental spill had been reported, and apparently the Atrazina contamination was an incidental finding when water sampling was employed to address the spill.  

The Varela administration has also announced it will be closely monitoring incomes generated outside Panama by the foreign consuls and will be implementing financial measures to close legal loopholes allowing millions of dollars to go unreported by the consuls and uncollected by the Panamanian state.

Reportedly hundreds of millions of dollars in funding issued by the prior administration to indigent rural communities is also slated for investigation. Financial records show distribution of funds to the localities, yet no community improvements nor justification for distributed funds are evident.  

On the day Juan Carlos Varela was inaugurated as President, exactly a month ago,  former President Ricardo Martinelli was in Guatemala being sworn in as a delegate to Parlacen, the Central American Parliament he called a den of thieves while campaigning for election 5 years ago. In August of 2009, President Martinelli withdrew Panama from the organization. His July 1, 2014 swearing in as a delegate was done surrepticiously during a time when the organization is normally in recess.  A special session without agenda was announced to members two days prior to the event, without press release, and the required quorum of 7 of 12 board members wasn't established. Parliamentary delegates from Panama who are members of the PRD and Panamenista parties are trying to have the ex-president's membership status and accompanying diplomatic immunity reviewed and possibly revoked.  Following their initial protests regarding the July first swearing in, however, little more has been heard regarding the matter. 

Even prior to assuming office, President-elect Varela requested the resignation of several existing cabinet members he felt "hadn't adequately defended the country's interests" during their terms in office.   He hasn't been successful in relieving them all of their posts.  The comptroller, for example, closely aligned with ex-president Martinelli, has refused to leave until her official term ends on December 31st of this year. 

President Varela's administration continues to face public transportation nightmares that have been omnipresent since dispelling the Diablos Rojos and implementing a municipal bus system in Panama City five years ago.  Another social headache has been the horrendous garbage situation in the Panama City barrios.  Varela's administration has aggressively tackled that problem by resuming control of garbage collection from private enterprise and assigning public officials to oversee the management.   There has also been a lot of press coverage regarding sorely needed renovations of public school buildings, that for a long time have been deteriorating and creating significant health and allergy problems for  young students. 

I see many positives.  It should be interesting to watch as time progresses and situations continue to unfold...