MIAMI – The government of Panama, anxious to show the financial world that it is engaged in meaningful reform, has announced that it is adopting the recommendations of the controversial independent committee that was hastily formed as a counter to the national reputational damage inflicted by the Panama Papers documents leak.
However, the two non-Panamanian members of the committee resigned, charging that the project was flawed from the beginning, and was being controlled by government officials.
The reforms that are to be adopted, according to a government statement last week, and which appear to fall short of any comprehensive reform, are:
(1) To require that all corporate Registered Agents (resident agents for service of process) be licensed and identified, and subject to supervision and regulation. There’s also some vague provision about differentiating them from licensed attorneys involved in the practice of law.
(2) Strengthen institutions for “greater oversight”. Does this means government institutions, or the banking sector, which is rarely, if ever, disciplined for rampant money laundering practices, fraud against clients and making loans to insiders, which reduces capitalization.
(3) Seek the independence of the judiciary; the court system is hopelessly corrupt, including the judges, prosecutors, judicial assistants, and even the file clerks. There is no detail supplied as to precisely how this will be accomplished.
(4) Implement the country’s commitments to exchange of financial information; again, no meaningful details are discussed in the report. Panama has been notorious in its dilatory actions regarding information exchange with other countries.
Whether all these reforms will actually occur, or how they are to be implements, remains an open question. Meanwhile, Panama’s negative image as a facilitator of corruption and money laundering continues to pay out in the media, as more and more Panama Papers documents are released.
By Kenneth Rijock