Isthmian Update – Some of the news in Panama

Moncada Luna’s bank accounts seized

Alejandro Moncada Luna, the former Supreme Court judge facing embezzlement and other charges, had his bank accounts provisionally seized on the instructions of Deputy Pedro Miguel González, the National Assembly prosecutor in the case. The accounts held in the Banco Universal totaled $1.3 million. Moncada Luna is under house arrest and has been suspended from his seat while his case is pending.

Tefler Island power plant stymied

The National Authority for Public Services (ASEP) canceled the final license granted to Panama NG Power by the government of President Ricardo Martinelli to build a thermoelectric gas plant on Telfers Island in the province of Colón. It was slotted to be the largest power generation project on schedule with 670 megawatts and represents an investment of over one billion dollars to begin operating in 2017. Panama NG Power was the only company to submit an offer to tender to generate electricity from natural gas during the period from 2017 to 2036.

Port workers to benefit in settlement

A total of 4,900 workers will benefit from the signing of the collective agreement ratified by the Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development (Mitradel) which was a negotiated settlement with Panama Ports Company, SA and the Industrial Workers of Ports and Allied Workers of Panama Ports Union (SINTRAPORSPA), which will last for four years. Of these, 4,018 employees and 276 female workers will benefit from accident insurance, wage increases, a scholarship program for workers and their children, financial support for family deaths, and contributions for purchases of glasses and social activities at the time of retirement.

Panapass system adopted for “corredores”

The directors of the National Highway Company (ENA) and the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) successfully convinced users of the Northern and Southern corridors in the registration and installation of the “stickers” to be used in the Panapass payment system. Although there were long lines reported that were caused by the massive turnout at the registration centers in Albrook and on Via Israel, officials said that users have until the end of February to register for the new payment system of prepaid unobstructed movement without toil gate stops.

Electricity tariff increase announced

The uncertainty created by the expected rise in the electricity power tariff is now over. Users who consume more than 301 kW will pay up to an additional 19% from the first quarter of 2015. According to Telemetro reports, people who consume between 301-700 kW of electricity will pay only 9% with the 19% increase applying to those who consume above 701 kW. The subsidy granted by the Government will be kept only for customers who consume up to 300 kW per month.

The continuing Guardia corruption scandal

Rafael Jaen Guardia, former director of the Programa de Ayuda Nacional (National Assistance Program or PAN) can no longer enjoy the “comfort” of his jail cell at the Department of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) and will soon be transferred to the La Joya jail as a “new preventive measure.” Guardia, who is facing charges of illegal enrichment while he was head of the agency, has refused to cooperate with the investigation against him, leading prosecutors to make the decision to transfer him to another jail. According to sources linked to the investigation, an additional $2 million in assets under Guardia’s name has been discovered in an account in the Bahamas. Prosecutors will travel to the Caribbean island this week in order to recover the money held there.

The importance of HIV awareness

In Panama it is necessary to intensify all efforts to combat HIV because “we are the country with the highest incidence in Latin America,” said Dr. Grimaldo Cordoba, director of Health Promotion, of the Ministry of Health (MOH). 137 cases of infected under-age children have been recorded so far in 2014. “The young population is one of the most vulnerable to infection, and at least three out of 10 people do not know they carry the virus. Panamanian culture is resistant to HIV testing, especially those who are immersed in promiscuity and of course sex workers,” said Córdoba.

Barú goes bananas

In early 2015, the US Chiquita Brands company will restart operations in Panamanian banana production and export from Barú, Chiriquí. “They are finalizing details to start the operation. We still do not have a fixed start date, but the company is already quite advanced in reviving the banana zone of Barú. Operations could possibly begin in early 2015,” said Edwin Vergara, National Director of Industry of the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA).

Corozal Port tender in the works

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is preparing the prequalification process leading to a tender for the design, construction, development and operation of a container port in West Corozal. The port will be developed on land owned by the ACP, and will be in two stages, including. a construction area of 2,081 linear feet of piers, patio and container structures such as offices and warehouses.

ANAM protecting Darien timber

Mirei Endara, administrator of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), said that the department will intensify its surveillance programs across Panama. The surveillance will be conducted mainly in the province of Darien, where an increase in illegal logging takes place during the dry season. According to the director of ANAM, operations will increase in four protected areas in the province, with both the State Border Service (SENAFRONT) and local authorities working together to ensure compliance with environmental laws and that businesses and individuals have the appropriate permissions for felling timber species.

Last tugboat completes the fleet

The Cerro Ancon is the last of the 14 tractor tugs of the new fleet that was recently received by Panama Canal. These new tugboats will allow the Canal to offer a more efficient service to the global shipping industry and strengthen the waterway’s capacity for the operation of the Third Set of Locks. The tugboats have been gradually arriving in Panama from Spain since June 2013, built by Astilleros Armon, S.A., a Spanish shipbuilding company that was awarded the contract in September 2011 for $158.3 million. The tender was opened to wide competition with the participation of 20 companies from South America, Europe and Asia.

Roads show signs of premature aging

Several recent road projects built in the capital city during the administration of former President Ricardo Martinelli which were heralded with much fanfare are now being considered failures by the Ministry of Public Works (MOP). These projects include the third phase of the Coastal Strip, the Via Brazil Roundabout, the bridge on the Simón Bolívar Highway and the enlargement of the Domingo Diaz Avenue, together representing an investment of $1.24 billion. According to claims by the MOP, the construction megaprojects are showing anomalies. The secretary of the MOP, Pacifico Chung, stated: “The symptoms that have appeared usually do not show up until a road has completed a cycle of 15 years of use.”

UN agency weighs regions’ economic outlook

Economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean will be just 1.1% this year but will double to 2.2% in 2015, said the UN agency Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). In its Preliminary Overview report of 2014, ECLAC notes that the average growth in the region this year is the lowest since 2009 and that the improvement in 2015 will be in the context of “one heterogeneous slow recovery of the global economy.”

A new station for Metro Line 1

In February 2015, the San Isidro Metro station will be operational. With its opening, Line 1 of the Panama Metro system will have 14 working stations. The San Isidro station will allow the movement of 15,000 more users of the system. According to Marcia Arosemena, legal adviser to the Metro Secretariat, the new station will include more than 16 bus stops servicing the area. Arosemena’s statements were made during the ratification of Osvaldo Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines, and Eduardo Rodríguez Pérez, director of the Panamanian Chamber of Construction, as members of the Board of the Panama Metro SA.

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