Consuls’ millionaire debt to the State
PANAMA. Private parties in luxury yachts paid for by every Panamanian. Salaries with commissions that many times surpass the $20,000 e...
PANAMA. Private parties in luxury yachts paid for by every Panamanian. Salaries with commissions that many times surpass the $20,000 earned by presidents. Bills written by hand, numbers that don’t add up and, in the midst of it all, the Panamanian State is being stripped, note by note, of its much-needed income.
We are talking about State money that leaves on a ship and never returns. Panamanian democracy has formalized a system of maritime consulates that allows for dark dealings with the State’s money. Government after government, we’ve seen how trusted president’s men head to sea to raise money in the name of the State through the sale of Panamanian ship flags, a job that is well remunerated.
The sale of permits and other activities that generate big sums of cash for the consulates are now under the spotlight. Under the law, besides their regular salaries, consuls receive commissions based on performance: eight percent of sales up to $20,000, 9 percent of sales up to $50,000, and so forth. In the biggest consulates, consuls can get to earn more money than the president himself.
And this only includes declared money.
“You guys publish the legal amount, but no one knows how much is the illegal,” explains Franklyn Castrellon, a journalist specializing in maritime journalism. “Laws allow too many privileges to consuls, and everyone knows there is money given out under the table.”
Despite their high incomes, more than 50 consuls owe money to the State. Those topping the list include: Antonio Taquis, consul in Piraeus, Greece ($78,799.19); Neslin Arce, consul in Naples, Italia ($75,129.45); Aida Garay, consul in Genoa, Italy ($72,391.53); Alberto Gonzalez, consul in Miami, Florida ($47,105.95); and Roberto Pascual, consul in New York ($44,708.33).
According to Castrellon, one of the biggest problems in the current system lies in the ancient billing mechanism used, by which bills are still handwritten and consuls charge the money themselves, instead of receiving bank deposit slips that would be administered in Panama.
“The automatization has not taken place yet because the pressures are too big. Consuls and those who sponsor them are benefited by this old system, because it allows for all types of irregularities,” he said.
The government says that it is going to automate the system to avoid consuls from managing cash. The Ministry of Economy and Finance has proposed establishing a joint bank account in which consulates’ money can be managed from Panama. But the same promise was made by the former administration.