What are the pillars of the Plan of Action for the city, which was formulated based on recommendations from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)?
Amongst other areas, we focus on mobility and waste disposal. We want to revitalize the central district of Panama City, since it is constantly growing and expanding horizontally. In the last four years, the center of the city has lost 50% of its population. We want to turn that around and attract people back to the center. The major challenge there is mobility. This is not only about moving cars; it is about moving people. We need to invest in sidewalks as much as wider roads or public transport options, for example. The metro is a fundamental part of this action plan, as are metrobuses and other new buses. We need an integrated transportation system that incorporates all of that: vehicles, public transport, pedestrians, and bicycles. Only with an integrated approach can we achieve our goals.
How do you think the metro will affect congestion, and what other measures and initiatives could be taken to tackle that issue?
Line One is complete and Line Two is under construction. Line Three is next. Those metro lines will play a huge part in alleviating congestion in Panama City. We will ultimately have five lines, which are envisioned to be completed by 2035 and will cover the entire city. It is a long term vision that will play a huge role in easing population density and the stress this has on public transport, business, and circulation. The next stage is to get people used to using the metro and public transport in general. We need to reduce the reliance on private transport and promote public transport as a viable alternative. We take Singapore as a model for what we are doing here. It has created a truly integrated and efficient system, incorporating public transport, roads, private vehicles, and also sidewalks and cycling options. Many areas that Line One of the metro passes through have been depopulated; therefore, we hope the metro passing through will help attract people back and make it an attractive place to live again. After all, it is more efficient, cost effective, and convenient for more people to live and work closer to the metro. The municipality wants to invest in public housing to help this along further.
The government hopes to attract more firms to establish regional offices here. What makes Panama City an attractive place to live and do business?
Panama is a country of immigrants, and almost all Panamanians have roots in another country, myself included. Panama is, therefore, an open society for foreigners. There are no legal inequalities that favor nationals over foreigners. All are treated equally, and that also includes businesses, investors, and companies. We have laws that encourage foreign investment and a free and open market in which to operate. In addition, culturally and socially, we have food and cultures from around the world, people of all of origins, great international connectivity with flights to and from many destinations, and a cosmopolitan feel to the country. There is a vibrant and strong Asian and Chinese community, for example. The Bolivarian dream of Panama becoming the capital of Latin America has never been as true as it is today.
What do you hope to achieve in 2016, and how much of the plan of action can be implemented in the next 12 months?
We have a $350 million investment plan from 2016 to 2019. Half the projects within that investment plan began this year, such as the “walkability plan,” which includes 5km of sidewalk, the laying of cables underground, renovation of the fish and meat markets, as well as new sports and cultural facilities. We see great potential to develop the tourism in the city and the country, especially with the expansion of the airport, which will reach an annual capacity of 20 million once completed.