WHAT COULD prove to be the most thorough investigation of the secretive world of Panama’s National Assembly, began on Monday, March 13
In the legislative body “transparency” is often hidden by a code of silence, as millions of dollars from the public purse is transferred into pet projects by deputies of all parties to grease the wheels of re-election and continued access to the good life, short hours, perks, and impunity.
Some of it disappears into the pockets of those who handed out donations and unsolicited contracts, according to an in depth investigation by La Prensa covering the time the current administration has been in office.
Like a similar audit carried out into a group that controlled the University of Panama (UP) purse strings, this one is expected to introduce big changes, with the Supreme Court standing by to discuss the issue.
A skeptical public is less hopeful. It has witnessed flagrant abuse of public money and a perceived cozy hands-off relationship between the law makers and the judiciary for decades.
But if there is going to be change in the assumption that being elected to office means guaranteed access to the cookie jar, funded by tax payers, this is the time
A group of auditors from the Office of the Comptroller General arrived at the National Assembly on Monday, March 13.
The team has the responsibility to audit the donations, subsidies and service contracts Issued by the Assembly.
The La Prensa investigation documented that from July 2014 to December 2016, the Assembly disbursed $14 million in donations – most never reached their original beneficiary – and $68 million in contracts for professional services, for works which – in many cases – were not performed.
The investigation proved that a good part of the donations were offered by assistants of the deputies, who were left with the 95% of the beneficiaries’ checks.
The auditors went to the fifth floor of the Assembly , to meet with the institution’s secetary, Franz Wever.
The deputy president of the Assembly, Rubén De León, reiterated on Monday that he is willing to collaborate with the work done by the auditors and he hopes that the requests they have will get a prompt response.
“There is nothing to hide here in the Assembly “, he said.
The cooperation and nothing to hide statements have a familiar ring, like boilerplate copies of the promises from the University.
When the auditors setting out to open the books found that “prompt” and cooperation were not in the UP lexicon.