Panama Table of Contents
In addition to the three branches of government, the state apparatus includes numerous independent or quasi-independent agencies and institutions that function in a variety of ways. The most important of these is the three-member Electoral Tribunal. The Constitution provides that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government will each select one of the members of this body. The tribunal is charged with conducting elections, tabulating and certifying their results, regulating, applying, and interpreting electoral laws, and passing judgment on all allegations of violations of these laws. The tribunal also conducts the registration of voters and the certification of registered political parties and has jurisdiction over legal disputes involving internal party elections. Its decisions are final and may be appealed only in cases where the tribunal is charged with having violated constitutional provisions. Although the tribunal may pass judgment on charges of violations of electoral laws and procedures, the prosecution of those charged with such violations is in the hands of the electoral prosecutor, an individual independent of the tribunal who is appointed by the president for a single term of ten years.
While autonomous in theory, in practice the Electoral Tribunal has consistently followed the dictates of the government and the FDP. This was exemplified most clearly in the decision to certify the results of the 1984 elections, dismissing all charges of fraud and other irregularities. The position of the electoral prosecutor is even more subject to administrative control. The opposition parties consistently have attacked the lack of independence of the tribunal and the prosecutor and have refused to participate in tribunal-controlled projects aimed at reforming the electoral code in preparation for the 1989 elections. President Eric Arturo Delvalle Henríquez urged broad participation in such efforts and promised to appoint a member of the opposition to the tribunal, but such actions did not satisfy the opposition. The tribunal, itself, has declared that it is not provided adequate funds for the tasks with which it is charged.
The Constitution also provides for an independent comptroller general who serves for a term equal to that of the president and who may be removed only by the Supreme Court. The comptroller is charged with overseeing government revenues and expenditures and investigating the operations of government bodies. Although independent in theory, in practice holders of this office have virtually never challenged government policy.
Quasi-independent governmental commissions and agencies include the National Bank of Panama; the Institute of Hydraulic Resources and Electrification, which is in charge of the nation's electrical utility; the Colón Free Zone; and the University of Panama. Other state agencies and autonomous and semiautonomous agencies function in various capacities within the social and economic system of the nation.
Public employees, defined by the Constitution as "persons appointed temporarily or permanently to positions in the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial Organs, the municipalities, the autonomous and semiautonomous agencies; and in general those who collect remuneration from the State" are all to be Panamanian citizens and are governed by a merit system. The Constitution prohibits discrimination in public employment on the basis of race, sex, religion, or political affiliation. Tenure and promotion, according to Article 295, are to "depend on their competence, loyalty, and morality in service." Several career patterns relating to those in public service are outlined and standardized by law. The Constitution also identifies numerous individuals, including high political appointees, the directors and subdirectors of autonomous and semiautonomous agencies, secretarial personnel, and temporary employees, who are exempted from these regulations. In addition, the Constitution stipulates that a number of high government officials, including the president and vice president, Supreme Court justices and senior military officials, must make a sworn declaration of their assets on taking and leaving office. In practice, these provisions often are ignored or circumvented. Public employment is characterized by favoritism, nepotism, and a tendency to pad payrolls with political supporters who do little if any actual work.
Data as of December 1987
Panama Table of Contents