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Holding the new Panamanian president to his public commitments

Libertad Ciudadana

Status quo: why anti-corruption reforms are needed

Earlier this month, citizens in Panama elected Laurentino Cortizo as their new president. He will assume office on 1 July, at a time when the need for anti-corruption reform in the country is more urgent than ever. Panama scores below the regional average on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and has been engulfed in various corruption scandals in recent years, including the Odebrecht bribery scheme, wiretapping by former president Martinelli and, of course, the ‘Panama Papers’.

The Panama Papers revealed the role of a number of Panamanian law firms in hiding wealth, often of murky origins, for the global rich and powerful — while vast parts of its own population, especially in rural areas, continue to live in poverty. Transparency International’s chapter in Panama has been working hard to keep anti-corruption on the agenda, before, during, and after the elections.

Time to act

To fix this, the most important step that needs to be taken is the passing of proper anti-corruption legislation. Transparency International Panama (TI Panama) has carried out assessments of state institutions and worked together with legislators. Based on this, it has compiled a list of necessary legislative reforms, including laws on public contracting, conflicts of interest, whistleblower protection, asset declaration for public officials, as well as anti-bribery laws for the private sector. Especially in the building and construction sector, rigged contracts and other forms of corruption are a widespread problem.

Then president-elect Laurentino Cortizo signing the Transparency Challenge and committing to anti-corruption measures

Strengthening legislation and rule of law

Citizens’ faith in democratic institutions can only be restored by taking strong anti-corruption measures and following through on promises. Political leaders need to commit to concrete steps against corruption. Four months ahead of the general elections, TI Panama launched “Reto Transparencia”, the Transparency Challenge, a list of anti-corruption commitments across five areas:

  • Anti-corruption legislation
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Public contracts
  • Justice
  • Access to information, open governments and open data

All major Presidential candidates committed to the recommendations on this list, including President Cortizo. It is now up to his administration to deliver on these commitments.

Mr. Cortizo has promised a constitutional amendment correcting the balance of power between the three branches of government, which would be a welcomed step. A proper separation of powers and parliamentary control mechanisms form the backbone of a healthy democracy and are key to preventing corruption from undermining it. TI Panama participated, as representatives of pro-democracy CSOs in the Consejo de la Concertación Nacional, the National Agreement Council, to negotiate and craft a constitutional reform package, which was concluded on Monday June 10thand will be presented to president-elect Cortizo next week.

The new administration has a window of opportunity, and must seize it to create change for the better.

This blog post is the first of a series of blogs written by Libertad Ciudadana, Transparency International’s chapter in Panama, highlighting their anti-corruption work around this year’s elections.

It is based on the assessment done via the Justice and Law Enforcement Accountability Dashboard (JustLead), developed under the CRIMJUST project that is being implemented by Transparency International chapters in 9 countries. Funding from the European Union Cocaine Route Programme under the CRIMJUST project supports tool implementation in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ghana and Panama. Funding from Global Affairs Canada under the IMPACT project supports tool implementation in Honduras, Guatemala, Nigeria, Peru and Venezuela.

For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org