PANAMA’S ever thickening corruption fog has now engulfed the National Assembly whose members are allegedly the guardians of the public interest.
They were elected to enact laws to curb the endemic greasing of palms and misdirecting of funds desperately needed by the country’s run down schools and health service.
Asking the legislators to introduce controls on their own sleaze activities exposed by La Prensa, is like asking the fox to guard the chicken house.
Since the present administration took office, the focus of attention has been on the alleged crimes of those in office during the Ricardo Martinelli regime, with scores of former high rollers, including the ex-president, his two sons, his brother and most of his inner circle awaiting trial.
But while those cases drag their way through the system and Interpol trawls for some 30 odd Panamanians on its red alert list, a skeptical public, with little confidence in what it sees as a corrupted judicial system wonders aloud how many of the criminals guilty of stealing hundreds of millions from those they were paid to serve will ever pay for their crimes and, if they do, will the sentences be commensurate with the scale of their rapacity?
A low level banking employee was last year sentenced to six years for stealing $5,000. Using the same measuring stick, some of the country’s high level elected officials would die in jail before their sentences were completed.
The allegations of massive malfeasance by deputies relate to the era of the current administration already seared by the Odebrecht revelations and the Panama Papers Scandal, with one of the Mossack Fonseca partners who was an adviser to President Juan Carlos Varela alleging that his former boss got funds from the Brazilian construction company.
Now Accounts Prosecutor Guido Rodríguez has moved light a spotlight to penetrate the corruption fog, and perhaps illuminate the latest can of worms.
On Wednesday March 9, he asked Comptroller Federico Humbert, to audit donations and contracts of professional services managed by the National Assembly in the fiscal periods 2014, 2015 and 2016, due to possible “irregularities” a local synonym for robbing the till.
An investigation by La Prensa documented that the Assembly, from July 2014 to December 2016, disbursed $14 million in grants and subsidies, which in most cases were not delivered to the original beneficiaries.
Contracts for professional services have been signed, which together total $68 million, for work that was never carried out.
The airwaves are alive with names, linked to irregularities many with long track records who have escaped the shriveled arm of the law.