Reflections on the ground of Panama’s membership to CoST

Members of CoST Panama give their views on the country's membership to CoST.

Leah C. Estrada
Interim Country Manager, CoST Panama  

Public procurement is the most recognised high-risk area for corruption in government; large-scale infrastructure projects are especially vulnerable to corruption, mismanagement, and political exploitation. It is a chronic problem worldwide. Many businesses are heedless about corruption and the severe impediment to sustainable economic, political, and social progress for countries at all levels of development.

Over the past four years, I have worked on behalf of the British Embassy in Panama to introduce best practices in transparency and accountability, raising awareness of CoST in Latin America. Panama has braved through challenges and bureaucracy to create an enabling environment for CoST and become an official member of the initiative. It has been a long journey, achieved through a team effort from across all members of the Multi Stakeholder Group (MSG). CoST Panama also enjoys the support of the Ministry of Economy and Finance; National Transparency and Access to Information Authority (ANTAI); National Water Authority (IDAAN); the Office of the Mayor of Panama; and the Public Procurement General Directorate.

The country’s acceptance into CoST is only the beginning. We trust CoST will provide us with the right tools to ensure value for money on infrastructure investment, by increasing transparency, accountability and citizen participation.

Ricardo D. Herrera H.
Founding Director, Fundación Generación Sin Límite and Member of CoST Panama Multi-Stakeholder Group

In recent years, there has been an influx of infrastructure investment in Panama and there are more mega-projects due in 2017. In contrast, we face many challenges in infrastructure projects such as cost over runs, poor quality delivery, incomplete works and more. The waste of resources is estimated to be anywhere between 10% and 30% per project. We need in-depth policy reform and greater transparency on public infrastructure spending.

CoST will help create a culture of transparency in a sector that has historically been linked to poor management of funds. The initiative will enable citizens to have access to key information on public infrastructure projects and provide the tools through which to demand accountability.

We hope that through CoST, and our alignment with the Open Government Partnership (OGP), Panama will increase transparency, citizen participation, accountability in the fight against corruption. This will result in a better quality of life for Panamanian citizens, as well as strengthened government institutions and a level playing field for the private sector.

Horacio Icaza
Member of Movimiento Independiente (MOVIN) and Member of CoST Panama Multi-Stakeholder Group

Panama is a young country with many advantages that, if well and honestly managed, should be able to provide its people with a better quality of life. However, we have very weak institutions and great social and economic disparities, despite decades of strong economic growth. Traditional politics seem to have reached a point of no return, leaving citizens to fend for themselves while elected officials abuse their mandate and mismanage and further weaken the political system. Our people deserve better.

I am a member of Movimiento Independiente (MOVIN), a diverse group of independent non-partisan professionals who work voluntarily to influence public policy and public opinion. MOVIN focuses on three pillars: transparency, citizen participation and building institutional capacity. In recent years, we have become acquainted with the British Embassy’s support to transparency and anti-corruption initiatives. They introduced us to CoST via a regional conference in Lima, Peru, and we are now part of the CoST Panama Multi Stakeholder Group (MSG), upholding the voice of civil society.

Corrupt practices in much of public procurement are endemic and fostered by lackadaisical enforcement of legislation, poor management of standards, discretionary practices and a permissive and collusive business culture. This is particularly true of infrastructure projects, many of which are sorely needed by our country but have evidenced poor planning, execution and high costs. CoST aligns with MOVIN’s values, as well as Panama's needs, because it provides opportunities for informed and responsible citizen oversight of infrastructure projects from the conceptual stages through to project delivery. 

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Date Published: 2 December 2016
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