25 de Sep de 2022


Deadbeat lawmakers

PANAMA. A recent trip to the National Assembly on a sunny afternoon shed light on a crucial missing element: lawmakers.

PANAMA. A recent trip to the National Assembly on a sunny afternoon shed light on a crucial missing element: lawmakers.

Scheduled to discuss Law No. 477, which would give land rights to citizens living on islands and coastlines, the level of absentees meant there was no quorum to start discussing this important proposal. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Out of 16 sessions in March, there has been a quorum on only three occasions.

If we see lawmakers who are constantly absent from the Assembly as a bad investment that Panamanian taxpayers will never recuperate, then the country might want to rethink its investment strategies.

In the last five years, the State has paid $15.9 million to lawmakers for days they have been absent (calculated by multiplying the total number of absences by pay to a lawmaker per Assembly session).

Lawmakers’ absences from the National Assembly represent a black hole which spreads in different dimensions. On one side, laws that the country needs remain without approval. Project proposals also go without discussions. And worse, money is spent unnecessarily, or put another way money is given away.

The National Assembly’s statute does not call for pay cuts for lawmakers’ absences. As unbelievable as it may sound, a lawmaker can be on leave for as long as he pleases, with the law backing him up.

“He just has to notify the Assembly that he is going to be missing and request the respective leave of absence,” explained Jose Ismael Herrera, deputy secretary general of the National Assembly, who does not see what the big deal is.

“A lawmaker is a lawmaker all day, inside or outside of (Assembly) sessions,” he added, explaining that the lawmaker’s real work is “in the community.” Jose Ricardo Acevedo, Assembly advisor, agreed with Herrera: “The Assembly’s statute does not explicitly say the amount of leave of absences permitted.”

Even though most constitutionalists coincide in that the lawmakers’ job is in fact to legislate (debate, improve, and create laws), that seldom happens in the Assembly.

Some use the attendance of deputy lawmakers to justify their absences, yet across the country voters seldom recognize deputy lawmakers, having placed their trust in the first choice.

Lawmaker Carlos Cleghorn criticizes the lack of organization of his fellow coworkers. He affirms that there is a lack of attendance, and “thanks to the lack of will power from many of my colleagues there is no quorum to discuss the projects that Panama needs.”