Thousands of students have so far been unable to matriculate for their next year of studies at the University of Panama, causing chaos and anger. The university had proudly announced that starting 2013, the matriculation process would be entirely done over the web, and the special site would come online Monday the 25th of February at 00:00.
Why anyone would open up a heavy load site at midnight when no tech support is available is anyone's guess. We talked to students who tried to use it:
"They said that we could use it at midnight, but because this is the University of Panama, we decided to go there anyway in case it didn't work so we could do the process like always."
That was a wise move. As soon as the system came online, it crashed. When employees of the administration finally showed up in the morning, it was announced that the system would be back online later on Monday. But then power went down all over the country, and the new launch hour was delayed until midnight again.
And again, it crashed. Plus, it turned out that it was incomplete. Some faculties simply couldn't use it. It's now supposedly going to be alright at midnight again, Thursday morning at 00:00.
How could this happen? We had a look at it and what they are trying to use is something that can be called a beta test version at best, which they are trying to let loose on a student population of about 50,000. There is no redundancy in hosting of the system, servers, etc. There are serious security problems. It's just so amateurish that it would be a miracle if it didn't crash. Then again, we have to remember that this is a university that is headed by a man who calls himself a "rector magnificus" even though he has a doctorate from a diploma mill, a man who has never published one single scientific article but names streets after himself on the campus, a corrupt figure who sells diplomas through his entourage of employees and then goes on foreign trips using so much money for his own comfort and that of his accomplices that there hasn't been any scientific work done at the university for years on end.
While thousands of students were getting really angry, a couple of transformers blew up near Penonome. The load then was taken up by other components of the grid, which, one by one, also blew - a phenomenon known as "cascading system failure". Eventually, practically the entire country was without power. Then the water went out as well, because the water company IDAAN has no back-up power for the pumps.
ETESA, the state owned company that is in charge of the national grid, claimed that a fire in a sugarcane field had destroyed the transformers. That fire, however, turned out to have been tens of miles away, and we suspect that lack of maintenance and stealing money instead of replacing outdated equipment are the cause.
At least it is good to know that you can just hit one transformer to knock out the lights in all of Panama. Just wait until protesting Ngobe groups hear about this.
A friend of Bananama Republic told us that she and her husband had received notice from HSBC that there had been fraud detected on their credit cards and that they would be replaced with new ones. Great service, you'd think. But then other people started getting the same notices from HSBC. All these cards cloned at the same time?
"You have been hacked," our source said to an HSBC manager, who then admitted that this had indeed been the case.
HSBC Panama, now sold to Bancolombia, had apparently been trying to keep things quiet, but in a small country like Panama it a kind of draws the attention if a lot of people all of a sudden need their credit card replaced because of fraud. Getting the new cards has been a nightmare, affected clients told us. The cards weren't there when they were promised they would, snotty employees, bad communications between different branches. It's typical for a thuggish bank that has been stealing millions from its clients.
What HSBC, ETESA, IDAAN and the University of Panama have in common is that they rely on weak networks. Each and every system that has failed over the last couple of days has done so because it has been designed for cheapness and not to be reliable and secure. ETESA doesn't invest in the grid because they want to pocket the money for its managers instead. IDAAN is roughly the same story (and so is, by the way every privatized electricity company in Panama as well as all the telcoms). HSBC gets hacked because their systems are not secure, and then it turns out that their system to replace the hacked cards is dysfunctional too. The University of Panama lets amateurs run an amateurish system because the money needed to make it work has long disappeared in the pockets of the corrupt rector and his cronies.
The only enterprise in Panama that seems to have reliable systems in place is the Canal Authority, but that will probably change for the worse too, now that Martinelli is trying to get his cronies on the board there and an ill conceived expansion project is suffering delays and budget overruns.