- Presidencia de la República de Panamá
In August 2016 millions of families from the most vulnerable sectors received a promise from the government: to have decent housing. After a year, the Techos de Esperanza (Roves of Hope) program, as dubbed by the authorities, has only half fulfilled its great banner of transforming the lives of the most devastated Panamanians.
The Altos de Las Torres community, in the San Miguelito District, was the first to enjoy a change. There, 606 Panamanian families that for years lived in unsuitable conditions received their new houses on August 18.
The program was framed in two fundamental parts: reconstruction and repair. The reconstruction for houses that have earth floors, improvised walls and ceilings made of wood and old zinc; and the repair would be for houses that have roofs in bad condition, unscratched walls, have no internal divisions and earth floors.
The families are given a basic unit of 40.8 square meters, 2 bedrooms, a living/dining room, kitchen, bathrooms with septic tank,s or repairs to ceilings, scratches on the walls and new paint.
The initiative has the collaboration of the Ministry of Housing and Territorial Planning of Panama, which surveyed 35,500 houses that would be benefited over a period of five years. Of these, 6,993 have been delivered and 21,707 are under construction. Construction of another 6,800 homes is about to start, according to La Estrella.
This group excludes anyone with an informal settlement or does not promote something not promoted by the State, meaning all applicants for Techos de Esperanza must have at least one possesory right.
The reality is that not everything has been a piece of cake. Two months after the program's launch, the government eliminated the National Aid Program (PAN), main funding source of Techos de Esperanza for lack of transparency. The program funds were handed over to the Social Assistance Directorate, (DAS) attached to the Ministry of the Presidency and subject to the control mechanisms of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic.
In the investigation that weighs on the case, the Public Ministry accumulates a 22 volume file exclusively on Techos de Esperanza, but this information has been handled with air-tightness.
On December 26, 2014, an anonymous complaint filed with the Nacional Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (Antai) revealed a possible irregularity in the selection of heavy equipment suppliers to develop the government's flagship housing program, La Estrella explains. The complaint referred to the purchase of backhoes and skid steer loaders with diesel engines to be used for the Techos de Esperanza program.
The purchases made by the former PAN through "invitation of suppliers" infringe the principles of transparency, economy and responsibility enshrined in the Law on Public Procurement, said a report from the transparency institution, because it was done partitioned in a way that did not give total entries.
This practice is classified as a "division of subject" and is aimed at reducing the amounts of invoices for administrative tax and case control.
In accordance with Article 23 of Law 22 of Public Contracts, it is not possible to divide the subject of contracting into parts or groups in order that the amount does not reach the required to hold the corresponding public act. In this case, the award will be null and the offending public servant will be imposed the corresponding legal penalties, so states the norm.
"The National Assistance Program (PAN) was a corruption focus of the former government administration. Its former director Rafael Guardia was detained on charges ranging from embezzlement to money laundering for the recruitments made through the social program.
In campaign, Juan Carlos Varela promised to eliminate this program, but ended up changing its name. Through Executive Decree No. 775, the PAN 'resurrected' as DAS and will be in charge of responding to situations of urgency and public need.”
Although the government continued the program differently, citizens have been affected in some way. Of 500 homes that were to be delivered in the Los Santos district, for example, only 10% have been met, reported Los Santos district councilmen, quoted by Panama America.
The fact keeps owners and councilors worried, since some people demolished their slum houses and have been left in the open. In some communities this program is paralyzed almost 100%.
In Sabanitas, citizens have also expressed their disagreement with housing programs carried out by local authorities.