The new President on the block.

Mon, 06 Jul 2009

Well, it's just a few short days since Ricardo Martinelli was sworn in as the new President of Panama. He's promised change. I wonder if the magnitude of what he's promised has begun to set in. While I believe his head and his heart are in the right place, most things in Panama run counter to what President Martinelli wants to do.

To begin, President Martinelli, in a speech the other day claimed there were $20M in "botellas" on the government payroll. For those of you who don't understand Spanish, botellas mean bottles, but this term is a reference to folks who show up for a paycheck, but don't show up for work.

I hear you. That's not possible. Well consider: a newly elected Legislator (Medical Doctor by profession), prior to being elected, had at various times held a number of government and private positions at the same time. He was, in fact, fired from one government job because while he held this 8 hour job, he also held another 8 hour government job, had a private practice, and taught several classes in more than one local university. If you add up the hours, that comes to about 32 hours work in a 24 hour day (when did this guy sleep?). Guess who got shorted hours -- not his lucrative private practice or the universities (despite student complaints). Yes, I know him personally. I also know what his work schedule was. I also know he was not alone.

The new Minister of Education, Lucy Molinar, announced she had found that thousands of backpacks destined for the country's poor children, were of poor quality, cost about $1.25 on the shelves of the local stores (very cheap, small, plastic backpacks) but were sold to the government for $12.50 each. No one (seemingly) is particularly shocked. I don't envy Minister Molinar. She's already up to her hips in alligators -- hope she remembers her primary objective is to drain that swamp.

Here in Panama, it's who you know and how much money you have. The gap between the haves and have nots in Panama is bigger than the Grand Canyon. And those who could fix it, have little incentive to do so. President Martinelli will be fighting an uphill battle. He has five years to fix entrenched "problems" from the last 50 years. He'll have to do more than any three previous presidents combined (although that shouldn't be hard) to even make a dent. And as I said before, he's liable to find along the way that vested interests will do their everything they can to sabotage his best efforts. Assuming he hasn't already realized that despite reportedly reclaiming $20M in lost wages, Panama doesn't have the resources (neither men, money, nor machinery) to fix it all.

I think he's off to a good start. I wish him well. But I think he's trying to suck an elephant through a straw.

I have deliberately been a little evasive with names, dates, and other specifics -- on purpose. In the US (and most democratic countries), if you tell the truth and can prove it, it's not slander. Here in Panama, the laws are such that if you cause someone damage by something you say and they can prove the damage, even if it's true, you can go to jail. Sad but true. I have little incentive to go to jail over any of the absurd goings on here.


The new President on the block.

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