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We dont know all the numbers, because wed be talking about percentages of two ports gross income in future years. However, the Moscoso administrations renegotiated deal with Panama Ports Company, the local subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa that holds the concessions for the ports of Balboa and Cristobal, will directly cost the Panamanian treasury about $30 million this year and most likely greater sums each year for the next 46 years or so.
Then there are two more cost factor that havent been much discussed. First, the other ports, CEMIS and the railroad have contract provisions that in effect give any tax break or subsidy that someone else gets to them. Second, Panama's tax receipts are shrinking, its public payroll is growing, and this addition to the deficit is likely to lower this country's bond rating, which will make us pay higher interest rates on the money the government borrows. Thus the Moscoso administration is wasting billions of dollars over the next several decades.
How did Panama get into this messy situation?
Sure, the company played hardball, but the government --- this administration and the past one --- gave them the opportunity to do so.
During the Perez Balladares administration, the legislature passed and the president signed a piece of legislation that made reference to a map that they didnt have in front of them. That gave the same piece of land to the railroad and to the port of Balboa, and it cost some $40 million to sort out the politicians laziness and incompetence.
In the Moscoso administration, buildings that the port concession contract required to be turned over to Hutchison were retained by the Panama Canal Authority. Apparently supermarket baron and Canal Affairs Minister Ricardo Martinelli and President Moscoso were too busy putting their relatives on the government payroll to pay attention to this duty, and the resulting breach of contract gave Hutchison an opportunity to exploit.
Hutchison did so with a vengeance. It used monopolistic blackmail tactics, going slow on the development of the Port of Balboas multimodal container handling capacity, which affected the railroad and the other ports. Balboa is the bottleneck in Panamas ambitious plans for a multimodal container freight system, and Hutchison used its position to the detriment of other companies and the Panamanian people.
Meanwhile, due to worldwide economic woes Hutchisons profits are down, and theyre seeking to bring them back up.
It may have been prudent to cut Hutchison some slack for this year and maybe next, and the governments breaches of the port concession contract made some sort of renegotiation necessary. However, what the Moscoso administration did was an unconscionable giveaway. She has passed the bill for her own incompetence to this and the next few generations of Panamanians, and this country cant afford to let her to get away with it.
If Hutchison cant live for the coming decades according to the terms that it negotiated with Panama just a few years ago, then its time for Panama to cancel the concession and put the ports of Balboa and Cristobal up for bids again. In the meantime, the legislature and courts should act to strike down Mireyas giveaway to Hutchison Whampoa. The voters ought to remember this betrayal of the national interests when casting ballots in the next elections.
Bear in mind...
I leave it to posterity to judge impartially what I have done.
Catherine the Great
History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Sir Winston Churchill
In reality there were no heroes or leaders.