Spanish version

GOVERNMENT

Questions raised about Assembly consultants

The legislature has released limited information about the contracts.

 

Spanish version

Temas:

Discussions about the expenditures on consultants in the National Assembly between 2009 and early 2014 has become a taboo subject. No one wants to say how much was spent or who received the contracts.

The government portal PanamaCompra is supposed to contain these details. But a search of the database reveals only a partial listing of these contracts, many of which were issued during the administration of former Assembly President Sergio Galvez and former Secretary General Wigberto Quintero.

Ironically, one of the first contracts issued by the Assembly was shortly after former President Ricardo Martinelli took office in 2009. The Assembly hired the company SL Corporation to find deficiencies and "possible misuse of institutional resources" during the previous administration. The $47,000 contract was for three months. But there is no record of any subsequent report being filed by the company.

In February 2014, La Prensa, through the Transparency Act, requested detailed information on the contract, as well as any reports provided by the company. Galvez at first claimed that the information officer was on vacation. After 30 days, he stopped responding to queries about it.

Among the consultants hired by the Assembly was the the company Inversiones Gratelvi. This contract was issued to help with the Social Security budget presentation to the Assembly. The body never justified the $48,000 expenditure, or detailed the problems the consultant was hired to address.

It also issued a $153,000 contract to the company 90 Grados, which was registered in May 2009. The assigned task was to analyze "the current situation and needs" of document management within the Assembly.

According to a report by the Comptroller, this company, since it was created, has only received payments from the National Assembly.

According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the company engages in the distribution and sale of telecommunication equipments and rents construction equipment. It says nothing about consulting work, and the company's phone has since been disconnected.

Another case seemed to violate government rules regarding public employees. The Assembly hired the company Ferse in September 2010 for $49,500 to "guide legislative committees and certain secretaries."

The president of Ferse is Elka Segrega, who was director of human resources for the Ministry of Health at the time.

Regulations prohibit government employees from holding two positions at the same time. Segrega could not be reached for comment.

Another government official was issued a consulting contract as well. Alfonso Carrasco, who worked for Social Security as head of training projects, was issued a contract in November 2011.

He was supposed to design a manual of policies, standards and procedures for the "evaluation of the performance of public servants of the Assembly." The contract was for $280,000.

Carrasco said that he did not violate government rules regarding holding two jobs since he completed the manual while on vacation. He recently left his job at Social Security.

Transparency International Vice President Carlos Gasnell said that there needs to be more oversight of such expenditures, saying there has been an abuse.

"There needs to be a review of the suitability and experience of the bidders," he said, noting that this should be the function of the comptroller.

He also said there need to be tighter regulations on the issuing of no-bid contracts.

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