PLACID AND PELLUCID

Panama 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Álvaro Alemán Healy, Minister of the Presidency, on smart diplomacy, hitting infrastructural targets, and increasing transparency.

HE Álvaro Alemán Healy
BIOGRAPHY
HE Álvaro Alemán Healy graduated in political science and obtained a master’s in trade law. He has worked as Sub General Director of the Revenue Department at the Ministry of Treasury, as Advisor at the Ministry of External Relations, and as President of the Board of Loteria Nacional de Beneficencia. More recently, he was President of the Association of International Lawyers, Second Vice-President of the Partido Panameñista, and served as the Representative of the Commission for the Promotion of International and Financial Services at the Ministry of External Relations of Panama.

How would you assess the heritage of the Summit De Las Americas that took place in Panama in 2015?

From a diplomatic standpoint, this government under the leadership of President Varela and Vice President and Foreign Minister Isabel Saint Malo has been able to achieve a balanced foreign policy contrary to what happened in the last part of the Martinelli government. Nowadays, we have excellent relations with every country in the Americas, including those in the Bolivarian Pact. We also have observer status in the Pacific Alliance and are considering whether to participate as a member. In this scenario, Panama has been able to act in Latin America's different multilateral entities as a facilitator and bridge for dialog among different parties. President Varela has had exceptional relations with almost all of the presidents in the region, especially the US, which will continue under the Trump administration.

2015 marks the beginning of the government's 2015-2019 strategic plan. What has been achieved so far and what are the government's main short-term priorities?

On December 31, we reached the halfway point of our government. We will still have 30 months to go and there are three areas of focus. One is the institutional area, and in that sense the Varela government has been able to restore some institutional balance in the country. Unfortunately, in the last three years of the Martinelli administration there was a form of government that did not take into account the institutional balance that is needed, and both the judiciary and legislature have become an appendix of the executive branch. The other issue is economic; in our first full year of government in 2015 we achieved 5.9% economic growth. In 2016, we are targeting between 5.3% and 5.5% growth. The growth forecast for 2017 is between 5.8% and 6%.

What should Panama do to increase its image as a transparent and reliable country to attract foreign investment?

This effort began immediately when we took on new business and enacted important pieces of legislation. We were also able to set up different mechanisms for reporting suspicious activities, which includes obliging lawyers to report suspicious activities to the financial analysis unit. We have also signed a multilateral assistance tax relief bill, which has been signed by approximately 100 countries. In the beginning of 2018, we will take part in an automotive exchange of information between countries to ensure everyone has adequate safeguards to prevent information from being used by third parties. Hence, we are taking steps that are being recognized by the OECD. We have good bilateral relations with major players such as the US and Germany. There is one notable exception, France, which without any justification has targeted Panama and is about to include us on a gray list beginning in January, even though it was aware that our commercial code did not require companies that are not operating in Panama to require accounting information in Panama

What are your main targets and goals for 2017?

As far as infrastructure is concerned, we have been able to conduct public bidding on all our major planned infrastructure programs. Only two are pending: the public bid for the fourth bridge over the Panama Canal and the third line of the metro system. These are projects that will be inaugurated by the new government in 2019. We will also complete the expansion of the highway between the bridge and Arraiján on the western side of the Panama Canal. We are also going to expand the Inter-American Highway from Chorrera in the western part of Panama to San Carlos in the touristic area. We will continue all the other infrastructure projects, some of which we will be able to inaugurate in 2017, some in 2018, and line two of the metro in early 2019.