By Luis Miguel Blanco
For "all the changes it has made in an accelerated time", Panama "does not deserve" to be included again, as in 2014, in the gray list of tax havens of the International Financial Action Group (GAFI), bank superintendent Ricardo Fernández told to Acan-Efe on Friday.
However, the person responsible for overseeing the good performance of more than a hundred banks -most of them international- operating in the country, admitted that "last October they warned me of that possibility".
"I hope that the times accompany us, because when they told me about that possibility it was because the law that criminalizes tax evasion was not passed", which was done this week.
A FATF mission will visit Panama in mid-February to assess the level of compliance with international regulations to prevent tax evasion, money laundering and financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The result of that evaluation will be published next June, almost at the end of the current government, which will hand over power on July 1 to the one elected on May 5.
"The progress has been substantial since the new legal frame was made (in 2014) the prevention aspect was greatly strengthened, in line with the recommendations of the FATF and quite in line with the world. The world has been homologated and that is something that costs us to understand", he said.
More than 90 percent of the Panamanian economy is of services, has within its most important pillars the financial center, which generates more than 22,300 jobs, this is more than the same Canal of Panama (10,000 jobs) and generates direct salaries of almost 1,000 million dollars, said Fernandez to emphasize that legal changes are a necessity.
With the advances that Panama has had, in prevention and prudential, "it does not deserve" to be returned to a gray list, he said and "they have recognized" it in Europe, but he added that what is needed is "to communicate progress".
He argued that although "there are those who feel injured", it is not a problem to classify tax evasion as a crime, because "everyone must pay their taxes, and that these are invested correctly". There are projects for 20,000 million dollars that if they are done will provoke more growth and in a sustained way".
The banking industry in 2018 reached 121.5 billion dollars in assets, "an unprecedented figure, record for the system, we had been in a small decrease, but rebounded in the last three months", he said.
The result of banking is very positive, and the important thing is that it maintains solid rates of adequacy, above 16 percent, which helps the capitalization and liquidity of the banking center, which has been slightly above 60 percent the last ten years, he added.
For his part, the general manager of the National Bank of Panama (of the State), Rolando de León, told to Acan-Efe after presenting its accounts of 2018, that in 2014 that institution "was not affected by the inclusion of Panama in the gray list".
"Fortunately we comply with the fiscal penalty law, we hope that (...) the decision that will be announced (by the FATF) in the month of June will be favorable to the country," he said.
The NBP, he said, was "a support so that we could get ahead and get the country out of the list" with the cooperation of all State institutions.
"We fully trust that this time we will not be in that list again, but, in case that it should arise, we will unify efforts so that Panama can maintain its status and reputation internationally", he added.