As he continues to fall in the polls and with only 21 months to the election, President Ricardo Martinelli is introducing long promised cabinet changes.
Some ministers will be axed, others moved to another place at the table. But, according to Martinelli on Tuesday, August 14, the shuffle will be a thorough one and will be completed by year end, This will be a "total change", he said.
For starters Robert Roy, Secretary of the Panama Metro moves to a bigger role as Minister of Canal affairs, replacing Romulo Roux who becomes the new Foreign Minister. But Roy will still be responsible for the Metro project.
Sigrid Barragan, formerlt responsible for the environmental authority, (ANAM) becomes Deputy Minister of the Presidency, following the departure of Mary Fabrega who resigned after the shock departure of Martinelli confident Peter Papapdemitriu as the Minister. He was replaced by Roberto Henriquez who has held three different cabinet posts since Martinelli’s Democratic Change party took office
Franklin Vergara will be replaced at the Ministry of Health, by Javier Diaz, the current director of medical services at the problem ridden Social Security Fund. Federico Sutrez, whose Ministry of Public works has been the focus of attention recently over the handing out of $400 million of contracts to David Ochy’s construction company, leading to a blockade of La Prensa, is on the outs. He will be replaced by James Ford, Deputy Minister of Housing.
Speaking on TVN, Martinelli said Ford and Diaz will do an "excellent job" as did Vergara and Suarez, who have been offered a soft landing and asked to remain as "ministererial advisers". More changes will be announced in the coming days, said Martinelli.
Speculation is rife about the future of Martinelli insider and believed dirty tricks operator Salomon Shamah, who, as tourism manager, has been denied a US visa because of DEA reports of alleged links to money laundering. When the reports surfaced Martinelli announced he would be replaced by a woman while on camera a tearful Shamah denied the allegations. But the tourism czar, remained at his post and is widely reported to be the man behind the TV commercials attacking journalists, and Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, whose firing as foreign minster led to the break up of the governing coalition.
The future of Justice Minister Raoul Mulino, is also being debated. Mulino “irrevocably” resigned his post following a public dispute with the then Chief of police, Gutavo Perez. Mulino stayed and Perez was moved sideways to another post.
The questions now floating around are who ill be shown the door, and who will stay at the table to help rebuild the image of the post-coalition group. Some observers are puzzled at the announcement that the actual changing of seats in some cases will be delayed, leaving "in-between appointees" to decide where to focus their attentions.