Temas Especiales

26 de Jan de 2021


A pox on both your houses

Panamanians of all political hues are looking forward to May 3. Not because they are thrilled at the thought of voting, but because even...

Panamanians of all political hues are looking forward to May 3. Not because they are thrilled at the thought of voting, but because even big time political junkies have had an overdose of politics over the last 18 months and in the four month run up to voting day, have been bombarded with mud slinging accusations from the major political groups with serious debate hidden in the resulting quagmire.

This has created a “pox on both your houses” attitude among the citizenry, many of whom have already resigned themselves to more of the same (including continuing corruption) whoever takes office. Many will be holding their noses as they vote not “for” one candidate but “against” another.

The meltdown in enthusiasm is partly due to the presidential system, with its primaries extending over months including insider battles and flip flopping on running mates, followed by more months of campaigning. Oh for the parliamentary system, under which the leader and his cabinets are challenged daily by the opposition, and when an election is called, campaigning is restricted to between six and eight weeks.

MORE TO COME. But before you celebrate May 3, reflect on this. When you get home from work and pick up the channel changer to start flicking, you will be deluged first with the results, and endless pontificating by the talking heads. When, after 48 hours noise levels start to decrease, the volume will be turned up as the talking heads return to speculate on who will be selected for ministerial posts.

Quietly, on the sidelines if the PRD does not win a fresh mandate, many government employees and botellas, will be hunting for new positions. So politics will continue to dominate the airways until July, with brief pauses as attention in the early rainy season switches to the Cinta Costera.

CITY FOCUS. Dare I mention it? One reader has complained that it has occupied too much of this column. Others have belabored me with their views on its cost, possible overruns, change of design and political pressures from the Fishing and Yacht Club and the owner of a hotel inconveniently sitting in the middle of the development.

My response to complaints of too much coverage is that this is a project hard to ignore. It is taxpayer funded to the tune of $189 million, with overrun costs looming. It has helped grow the city’s traffic congestion problem, and driven local residents to despair with the dust clouds and the constant streams of under-serviced smoke emitting trucks. All in the name of progress, which at the same time has been leveling historic homes in Bella Vista to make room for the extension of the concrete jungle.

Originally Cinta Costera was to have been partly paid for by a special tax on residents in adjoining areas from Bella Vista to San Francisco. Fortunately, some of the connected inhabitants of the towers that are actually occupied on Avenida Balboa and in Paitilla and Punta Pacifica, wrought a change of mind in our lame duck president Martin Torrijos, who recently nixed that plan. Three cheers for lame ducks, who can still, in their dying days, show some claws.

The two remaining questions about the project are: “Will the new super roadways speed the flow of traffic, or produce new bottle necks as in cities in North America?” and “Who will perform the official unveiling?”

As workers hurry to lay grass and plant trees I am betting on the outgoing president, even if some of the roadways, away from the cameras are not yet complete. And the late finish will prove a boon to those dozens of hectares of grass, the city’s contribution to the greening of the planet, plus a few extra parking lots and concrete ribbons.

SCAMMING. The cell phone scammers are back at work in Panama, feeding on the gullible and least privileged members of our society and using Movistar as a false cover. The large budget swindlers are also moving in big time, perhaps hoping that in hard economic days their multiple hooks will seem more attractive.

My inbox is receiving up to five messages a day, with news of an inheritance, lottery winnings, the chance to help a lady battling a multi-million court case. The latest comes from a “bank” in Hong Kong, which wants to transfer “very large” sums, legitimately to Panama’s tax haven, and is looking to me to be the go between. Bad choice. I studied Japanese and managed to more or less stagger by with Katakana and Hiragana, but fell short on the 1,850 characters of Kanji (Chinese outlines) needed to complete high school in Japan.