A presidential shopping list
In politics, perception is reality, ask Balbina and Bim-Bim. Break a promise, lose an election. Panama's President-elect Democratic Chan...
In politics, perception is reality, ask Balbina and Bim-Bim. Break a promise, lose an election. Panama's President-elect Democratic Change leader and Supermarket owner Ricardo Martinelli must hit the ground running this July and show that his government means business and represents real “change”.
This means he has to make some tough and some easy decisions relatively quickly. Here are five ‘easy’ measures he can enact in his first days on the job:
ENRICH FOOD. Almost 30 percent of Panama kids are at risk of mental retardation through malnutrition reducing their cognitive abilities. The National Assembly tabled last year a legislative bill that would fortify with iron the 159 pounds of rice we each eat yearly.
Adding iron, folic acid, vitamin B, and zinc to everyday foods costs virtually nothing — not even a penny per loaf of bread — yet it will reduce anemia, maternal mortality and cognitive impairments throughout Panama. C’mon Doctors Motta, Pichel, and Saenz-Llorans. Writing La Prensa editorials isn’t enough. Mobilize your confreres and work with the Martinelli government to save Panama’s mothers and children with fortified food.
I invite my readers to look at the “Copenhagen Consensus”, where world-renowned economists rated which forms of aid are most cost-effective. Micro-nutrient supplements were rated as Number 1; malaria prevention was Number 12; and sanitation was Number 20 on the list.
Pass that enriched food legislation, President Martinelli. Think of the irony of a supermarket owner using food to cure a nation.
GET PANAMA OUT OF PARLACEN. The Central American Parliament was created in 1992 at an annual cost of $20 million. The six member states: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic (Belize and Costa Rica are not me mbers) each get 20 representatives who are paid a $10,000 annual salary. Most critics agree that PARLACEN is a do-nothing luxury rest-home for ex-presidents and pols running from the law or looking for easy money. Costa Rica pulled the plug on its participation some time ago and Panama should follow its lead.
CUT NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COSTS. The shiny new Democratic Change administration has the National Assembly primed for salary cuts, re-assignments, and the firing of non-essential workers. Already, the likely President of the NA says he will accept half of his $14,000 monthly salary, which is what NA deputies get (about $7,000 a month plus tax-free perks like $100 a month for gas).
NO MORE TAX-FREE VEHICLES. For years politicians, their ‘flunkies’ and magistrates have been given imported cars tax-free. Now you know why you see so many Porsche Cayennes, BMWs, and other top-of-the-line luxu-boats prowling the streets of Punta Paitilla and Calle Uruguay, when they’re not housed downtown at the National Assembly.
Many of these vehicles are imported by government officials and then quickly ‘flipped’ to third parties. A ‘win-win’ proposition for everyone, except the Panamanian taxpayer. Imagine, even accused money-launderer David Murcia got his Lamborghini through the tax-free program. Hopefully, the Martinelli government is ‘crazy’ enough to lead by example and save almost a million dollars annually by dropping this ‘cheap car’ scam.
‘NO VOY’ TAXIS. The law is clear. Taxis must take passengers where they want to go. It is illegal to cherry-pick passengers by refusing the short, traffic-congested fares. This insulting, embarrassing practice can be easily stopped by ACODECO, Panama’s consumer protection bureau that recently fined gas stations several hundred thousand dollars for price gouging. And, each week publishes lists prepared by their undercover shoppers of supermarkets that have the highest and lowest food prices.
Unleash your ACODECO bulldogs and let them hail taxis and film or tape their ‘no voy’ esponse. Then can lay charges where fines may be as much as $75 for each infraction.
Fine a few dozen cabs and ‘no voy’ will quickly become ‘si, voy’. Plus, this action will show all of the Transportistas players, that a Democratic Change government means business.
I can see the headline now: “ Martinelli Means Business.”