Tuesday, April 20 2010 @ 09:23 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Editor's Comment: And what happened to the Panamanian government officials who received those bribes? Not a damn thing. During the last several administrations, starting with Ernesto Perez Balladares, and then continuing with Mireya Moscoso and then Martin Torrijos in Panama, it became standard business practice to expect payments of hefty bribes if you ever wanted to get any kind of work from the Panamanian government. There are many "well known secrets" in Panama - meaning, facts of life that everyone knows about but for some unknown reason no one is willing to talk about. Ernesto Perez Balladares "privatized" much of the Panamanian government during his term in office, and this contract given to (bought by) PECC is a prime example. Prior to this, the Panamanian government was responsible for maintaining the buoys. But with a government contract, bribes, and kickbacks, government officials could farm out the work, collect the payments, and basically use these companies to in effect launder their theft of millions of dollars of government funds and tax dollars. The Panamanian Supreme Court recently ordered the reopening of an investigation into the mishandling of some $40 million dollars handed to the administration of Mireya Moscoso by the government of Taiwan. Of course, Mireya Moscoso's administration ended in 2004, so she was protected with immunity until 2009 by her position on the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). Right now, today, Martin Torrijos enjoys that same protection, or at least he will until Panama pulls out of the Parlacen in November 2010. This one case and the convictions and sentencing of these two US business executives highlights why it simply does not make any sense to pay bribes to Panamanian government officials if you are a US citizen. Why not? Because if one guy decides to drop a dime, then all of a sudden you can find yourself in prison. What about business executives for publicly owned companies, who have stock being traded on exchanges around the world? Think any of those guys paid any bribes in Panama in the past 20 years? Hopefully Ricardo Martinelli is working to put all of that squarely into Panama's past. A commonly heard expression here is that "all politicians are the same." Let's hope this one proves that to be wrong. In the meantime, I still don't understand how and why Panamanians can "square" in their own brains letting the government officials who received these bribes walk, while the executives from the company who paid them go to jail. I mean, is there no national shame in Panama? Aren't they embarrassed? Does anyone care, at all? The message seems to be "our country has always been run by crooks - we know about it, and we really don't care all that much."