PANAMA CITY – The front pages of Panamanian newspapers are virtually monopolized by the scandals linked to former President Ricardo Martinelli, the millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazil’s Odebrecht construction firm and the Panama Papers, a situation that the country is trying to face by mounting an anticorruption instruction and advertising campaign.
In one ad, prepared by Panama’s Commerce and Industry Chamber (Cciap), a 5-year-old boy asks his older sister to help him tie his shoelaces, and she agrees but asks for something in return.
“What will you give me? Haven’t you seen how the adults do things? They ask for bribes for everything,” the girl explains to her brother.
This dramatic example is one of the many messages against corruption that have been seen for months on the social networks, in airports, on television, in movie theaters, in the metro and at bus stops.
“We have to raise our voices, tell what’s happening and start to educate our kids because they will be the leaders of tomorrow,” the former president of the business association, and the creator of the ad campaign – Jorge Garcia – told EFE.
The International Transparency NGO this past week published on its Web page an anticorruption statement obligating signers to make a commitment not to receive or pay bribes and it has been disseminated widely in Panama.
“It’s very easy to recognize the big corruption schemes, but it’s costly to condemn the small day-to-day corrupt acts. People punish a politician who steals, but they don’t punish someone who pays $5 to the police officer so that they don’t get a ticket for driving while talking on their cellphone,” the head of the NGO in Panama, Olga de Obaldia, said.
Some of the scandals that have shocked Panamanian society recently involve various corrupt acts committed during the previous administration.
Martinelli, who governed from 2009-2014, was arrested in the US on June 12 and is being held for extradition in a case of illegal wiretapping, and in Panama he faces at least another dozen pending court cases.
In addition, two of his sons have outstanding international arrest warrants for allegedly taking bribes from Odebrecht.
“Panama needs leaders in whom young people can believe,” said Garcia, adding that corruption stems from a lack of values, the excessive permissiveness of society, the weakness of the court system and impunity.
Another criticism by anti-corruption forces is that the National Assembly and the Supreme Court appear to have made a pact not to investigate each other, contrary to law, and thus the high court is not investigating 13 lawmakers for allegedly improperly using millions of dollars in donations.
And lawmakers weeks ago set aside eight complaints against the chief justice of the high court, Jose Ayu Prado, who stands accused of assorted corrupt acts.
“I think that society is desperate and that there’s going to be a before and an after to all these scandals,” said Garcia.