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Tuesday, February 19 2019 @ 02:53 PM UTC

US Report Criticizes Judicial Corruption in Panama

Corruption By Betty Brannan Jaén for La Prensa Washington DC - Two days after announcing that the Free Trade Agreement with Panama will be sent to Congress for ratification, the government of George W. Bush published a report on commercial barriers that criticizes the Panamanian judicial system and indicates that corruption in Panama is an obstacle to foreign investment. As in previous years, the report, published Monday, says there are "persistent accusations of corruption in the government, particularly in the judicial system" and warns that "the judicial system can cause a problem for investors due to poorly trained personnel, the enormous accumulation of cases, and a lack of independence from political influence". This report, the third of 2007 criticizing Panama, also says raises that the government of Martín Torrijos has not done sufficient to fight the governmental corruption: "Although the government continues reaffirming his commitment to fight corruption as part of his general agenda of institutional reform it has been slow in giving concrete results".

Editor's Comment: The problem with fighting corruption is that you have to talk about how bad the problem is in order to do something about it. And just talking about and trying to do something about corruption creates the perception that there is more of it. In Panama law enforcement officials investigate and gather evidence, and public prosecutors file charges, but the judicial system is hamstrung on several fronts.

  • Caseload: Each case has to run its course and they all have to be treated with equal respect and due process. Unfortunately in every case, criminal and civil, there are two sides and (by definition) one side always loses. Practically every case is appealed to the Superior Court and then appealed again to the Supreme Court. The vast majority of workers in the judicial system are simply administrative personnel who type reports, stamp papers, and keep the system (such as it is) running.

  • Antiquated Procedural System: The judicial system has to (by law) painstakingly follow the law and apply justice as specified. Judges have some leeway and they are supposed to be the tie-breakers but the system is designed to "keep them honest." The effect is that every judge knows that every decision will be reviewed by the Superior Court, and then (usually or often) by the Supreme Court, so they are very careful not to make any mistakes in law. On the ground that usually translates into endless "screwing around" with the case because the judge cares a whole lot more about how he or she is going to look at the end of the day than in administering justice or doing the right thing. They make damn sure that they are papered and "covered" on every aspect of every decision. The short answer is - if it isn't on paper then it didn't happen.

  • Technology: The Panamanian judicial system runs on paper files of paper. Nothing is done in real time. Sometimes submitting one piece of paper generates and additional five pieces of paper (that describe the first piece of paper.) These case files have to be physically hauled from one courtroom to another, from the courts to the offices of the prosecutors because every decision has to be coordinated with the corresponding prosecutor. In Panama City most of the system runs on stand-alone desktop personal computers with laser printers. There is no computer system that ties all of the information together. In the interior it's easy to find small little one-room courthouses with no air conditioning and running on manual typewriters and carbon paper.

  • Resources: The judicial system needs more judges and courtrooms with supporting administrative staff to spread out and process the case load. The government of Panama needs to continue to increase spending on the judicial system in the form of payroll, equipment, technology, and workspace to improve efficiency and to speed the system. There has been a marked improvement in this past year but it's not enough.

  • "The Cases That Matter:" 99.9% of the legal case files in Panama "don't matter" to the politicians. The people involved have no political influence and while everyone is related to somebody the cases that fly below the political radar are handled, for the most part, in a fair and transparent matter. The problem arises in the fact that most judicial administrative workers are very poorly paid and they have great influence over the process, especially those legal secretaries who are the last person who brings the case to the judge. And the side that's losing usually wants to slow things down, and a few bucks to the right administrative worker can double or triple the time it takes for a case-file to wander through the system. The high profile cases usually become high profile because of the politics involved and there is a real and deep perception among all Panamanians that there is no justice when powerful people are involved. All of the power brokers know where the bodies from the other party are buried so it's hard if not impossible to make headway.

  • Slow but Steady Improvement: In the past twelve months there have been small, incremental improvements in the Panamanian judicial system. The President of the Supreme Court asked for and received a significant increase in funding to upgrade the system and to improve speed and efficiency across the board. When this same report came out last year Dixon was so pissed the top of her head basically blew off in public and fireworks came flying out, and she was basically incapable of coherant speech. I'm sure that this year her response will be quite different and that she probably won't take criticism of the Panamanian judicial system as a whole so personally. And it is perfectly possible to be working very hard to address shortfalls but still have a long way to go.

  • Critically Important Issue: Foreign investors are going to pour billions of dollars into the Panamanian economy over the next ten years. Companies will think long and hard about coming here to invest if they fear the possiblity of judicial insecurity or instability. Why should anyone put millions or billions of dollars in play in this economy if they are concerned about the stability of the system overall. Every time these articles come out the local comsumption is "there they go again, criticizing us..." when in reality the objective view should be "they're right." Balbina Herrera used an expression in the paper the other day, "se lava los trapos sucios en casa" (you wash your dirty laundry at home.) If Panama had their act 100% squared away with regards to judicial efficency, honesty and transparancy then we would not be talking about it in public.


    EU vuelve a criticar a Panamá

    Un reporte oficial dice que las denuncias de corrupción en el gobierno persisten y eso afecta las inversiones.

    Se destaca que el gobierno ha demostrado compromiso en el tema, pero pobres resultados concretos.

    Betty Brannan Jaén Corresponsal

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dos días después de anunciar que el tratado de libre comercio con Panamá será sometido al Congreso para ratificación, el gobierno de George W. Bush emitió un informe sobre barreras comerciales que critica el sistema panameño de justicia y señala que la corrupción en Panamá es un obstáculo a las inversiones del extranjero.

    Igual que en años anteriores, el informe, publicado el lunes, afirma que hay "persistentes acusaciones de corrupción en el gobierno, particularmente en el aparato judicial" y advierte que "el sistema judicial puede causar un problema para inversionistas debido al personal pobremente adiestrado, la enorme acumulación de casos, y una carencia de independencia de la influencia política".

    El reporte, el tercero de 2007 que califica mal al país, también plantea que el gobierno de Martín Torrijos no ha hecho suficiente para combatir la corrupción gubernamental: "Aunque el gobierno sigue reafirmando su compromiso de combatir la corrupción como parte de su agenda general, de reforma institucional, ha sido lento en dar resultados concretos".

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