What started as a brawl between Angélica Maytín, executive director of Transparency International Panama, and Okke Ornstein, publisher of Noriegaville News, has within a day become a debate about Transparency International's refusal to address the subject of possible corruption in the proposed expansion of the Panama Canal. A flurry of emails and simultaneous radio shows amounted to what would be best described as a cyber talk radio show:
"Hello, you're on the air!"
"Hi, it's Marcos Wilson here, from Washington. I have a question for Mrs. Maytín. Independent of your personal opinion, voting preferences, and obligations to the Junta de Escrutinio and independent of Mr. Eisenmann's preferences for the Referendum, is there a Transparencia's position (as an organization) specifically with regards to the Canal Project and risks/mitigation associated with corruption ? if there is one, would you kindly state it?"
"Okay, thank you, we're definitely all interested to know what Transparency International has to say about this. It's their job, right? Okay, who's next? Ah! It seems we have Angélica on line two, good morning! Are you finally going to state a TI position?"
"To talk about the Panama Canal at this time represents a conflict of interest for me because of my function on the Council that scrutinizes the referendum in October. I am the executive president of Transparency International Panama. I can't disconnect that fact. For this reason I don't give personal nor institutional opinions about this subject."
"We can all hear you, you don't need to yell. So you're saying that Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog organization, won't talk about the risk of corruption in Panama, a country that your organization consistently ranks as a poor performer in the fight against corruption???"
"In November we have the annual meeting of TI in Guatemala, and we have asked headquarters to allow the ACP to make a presentation there about their system of contracting and purchasing, so that we can analyze if their controls are rigorous enough to avoid corruption. And I am not going to reply any more to these articles on Noriegaville, I have too much WORK."
"Oh, so you only want to talk about corruption after the referendum! Well, that's news, isn't it? Because that's a political choice too. Hello, with whom do I have the pleasure?"
"It's Eric Jackson here, from The Panama News. I want to say to Mrs. Maytín that we have open vote buying by the president, the open breaking of the solemn promise not to force the canal workers into political involvements, the open flouting of laws against the use of public funds to affect elections, the publication of cost estimates for an important national project that are fraudulently understated on their face, the participation of the president of the Electoral Tribunal on one side in a national referendum... AND YOU SAY WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE REFERENDUM TO TALK ABOUT THESE INCIDENTS OF CORRUPTION?
Nothing you say about Okke, no matter how true, detracts from how you have discredited yourself as an anti-corruption activist. I say this with all due respect."
"Thank you, it doesn't get much clearer than that, does it? And whoppa, we have another caller, hello Julio Yao, you're on the air."
"I think Angelica Maytin must decide whether she will be Transparencia or a member of the Junta de Escrutinio. To begin with, Ms. Maytin -- as Transparencia -- should have protested over the referendum because a referendum is not an electoral problem, as the Tribunal Electoral is dealing with the subject, but a democratic initiative not requiring intervention by political parties as such. A referendum is not an election to public posts but a means of consulting the will of the people, the sovereign. But most people - including Ms. Maytin -- perhaps ignore this fact. As a member of the Junta de Escrutinio, she was chosen because of her links to Eisenmann. Her presence there is not casual. And this is the "double talk" or double standards we worry about.
One more reason to say "No"."
"Just Say NO, as Nancy Reagan used to say.... On line three we have Azucena Filló Haro, adelante licenciada!"
I'd like to know from Angélica Maytín where she was when this law was approved that benefited one of Panama's family clans while costing the Panamanian state over $400 million?
You are not the only one who has to work hard - and apropos, even the US ambassador has spoken about corruption. Do you think that corruption has decreased or that we now have a mountain of corruption? I think it's the latter in Panama, and therefore your WORK heading the institution that supposedly fights corruption has been an absolute failure."
"We're almost out of time, but we do have more callers waiting so here we go, this is Ignacio Iriberri, right?"
"Yes, and I have a comment. Nobody obligated Angélica Maytín to become executive president of Transparency International in Panama. As the term "transparecy" indicates, denounce some cases while being silent about others affects that concept and that organization. It's lamentable and to be rejected to accept being part of the Junta Escrutinio which, as the executive president says, obliges her to remain silent......"
"Okay, thank you but I'm going to interrupt you here for a second because on the other line we have FRENADESO, good afternoon, tell me, will it be a red October the 22nd?"
"Hello friends, we have denounced on various occasions the silence of those groups who claim to be representing of "Civil Society" in the face of what we call the "Fraud of the Century", the Banistmo law, that Minister Vallarino pushed through. Regarding Transparency International, we're not surprised that Bobby Eisenmann, promoter of the YES vote, wrote an article about the Banistmo case titled GOOOAAAL!!! A goal, yes, against the treasury, against the people and especially against the poor. About this position in the Junta de escrutinio that this woman has, citizens need to worry about the dubious impartiality and transparency of the Electoral Tribunal."
"Thank you so much. A little tidbit of information for you, listeners. In Panama we also have a "National Council for Transparency against Corruption", and Mrs. Maytín is a member of it. And if you thought she stays silent on matters because of her sensitive conflicts of interest, you're mistaken. Not only does she see no problem in making senseless attacks on journalists, she also accused this Council of which, again, she is a member herself, publicly of spending too much money with too little result. Hello, is that you, ambassador William Eaton?"
"Yes, it's me. And I will state that the US government as well as the Panamanian expect better results from this Council. We'll continue to support it because we think it's important."
"Thank you very much sir, that was US ambassador William Eaton, ladies and gentlemen, and that brings us at the end of today's show. Thanks for listening and be back tomorrow!"