PANAMA CITY – Social democrat Laurentino Cortizo took the oath of office as Panama’s president for a five-year term on Monday in a ceremony attended by Ibero-American dignitaries and at which he issued a strong call for unity to combat corruption, poverty and lay the foundations of a new country.
“I swear to God and the homeland to faithfully comply with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Panama,” said the 66-year-old Cortizo before receiving the presidential sash from the head of the unicameral National Assembly, his Democratic Revolutionary party colleague, Marcos Castillero.
In a firm tone, the new president, who is a former agriculture minister and legislator, issued a call for national unity to confront the “monumental challenges” Panama must face, including inequality and poverty.
“There is no room for indifference” to the least advantaged members of society, said Cortizo, who reiterated his message of head-on battle against corruption that, he said, over the past decade has siphoned off resources for education and healthcare in Panama.
Corruption, Cortizo said during his 25-minute inaugural address, “steals from all of us,” adding that Panamanians have been “poisoned with clientelism, (and) have disrespected the separation of powers.”
“Public funds are sacred ... We’re going to act without stealing,” Cortizo said, adding that in his administration “there will be no untouchables, beginning with the president himself,” and he announced the immediate launching of an austerity policy.
He reminded officials within the judicial system that “your duty is to the homeland and to your own conscience, not to political or economic pressure and even less” to the president, because the country needs to “restore effective justice.”
The new president said that he knows “how to work hard, with organization and discipline” and he reiterated his call for “everyone, unconditionally” to help restore the country.
Cortizo announced that in July he will present to Parliament, where his party and the allied Molirena Party control 40 of the 71 seats, “the basic proposal” for a reform of the Constitution, one of his main campaign promises.
He said that he inherits public finances that are in “worrying” shape and that when he has all the information that will allow a full diagnosis to be made he will inform the country about the strategy for relaunching the economy, which began decelerating more than five years ago.
“I’m an optimist,” said the president in bringing his speech to a close, after also announcing that this month he will propose a reform of the public contracting and hiring law “to guarantee transparency and clear rules,” a law for public-private associations “to facilitate development projects” and another law to facilitate business loans.
“We will leave a legacy of (strong) foundations, the pillars of a different and better country,” he said.