Interview: Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado
How can Panama manage public resources to contribute to its long-term national development goals?
ISABEL DE SAINT MALO: The most important way to improve public resource management is transparency and respect for the rule of law. Therefore, access to public information is key. Our administration has chosen a non-partisan head of a state agency to monitor access to public information. We are also making efforts to share all information regarding possible anomalies in contracts and public resource allocation with the public prosecutor’s office. This will lead to reductions in corruption and, in turn, greater efficiency in public resource management. Indeed, transparency in the management of public resources is directly linked to efficiency. Higher efficiency means less inequality and more competitiveness in resource allocation. Therefore, the vice-presidency is committed to targeting subsidies to reach those who are most in need of help.
What role can bilateral agreements play in Panama’s efforts to attract foreign investment?
DE SAINT MALO: The government’s foreign policy is focused on serving our national development goals. We are expanding bilateral relations to attract investment into the country and sharing better practices on meeting mutual policy goals. Examples of how Panama has pursued foreign policy in a way that benefits development include working closely with Spain and Uruguay to improve water sanitation and purification programmes, the re-establishment of electric interconnectivity with Colombia, and learning from Singapore in developing technical education.
We are also implementing various free trade agreements, and have created a vice-ministry of multilateral affairs and cooperation to respond to the increased relevance of multilateral organisations. Similarly, we are aligning our efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that form part of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda with the Government Strategic Plan (Plan Estratégico de Gobierno, PEG) 2015-19.
What role can multilateral financial organisations play in implementing public infrastructure plans?
DE SAINT MALO: Multilateral financial organisations have an important role to play in financing public works. During the Seventh Summit of the Americas in April 2015, President Juan Carlos Varela called for such entities to increase their efforts to back governments in developing infrastructure. Heads of state and government at the summit subsequently accepted the initiative to establish a regional centre for infrastructure development. In advance of the next General Assembly for the Organisation of American States, the Panamanian government has requested a meeting of the Joint Summit Working Group, collecting together the World Bank, the Inter-American Bank of Development, the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America and the Central American Bank of Integration, to discuss ways of increasing support for infrastructure projects.
To what extent can dialogue between the public and private sectors help achieve a consensus on improving national productivity and competitiveness?
DE SAINT MALO: Policy solutions that are sustainable for the long term are only made possible through alliances between government, the private sector and civil society. For example, the alignment that will take place between the SDGs and the PEG 2015-19, will be a combined effort between all three stakeholders through the National Pact for the Development of Panama, which is an established institutional public-private partnership currently being reorganised.
There are also other examples of public-private dialogue to improve productivity and competitiveness, such as the government’s decision to include some of the recommendations by the National Competitiveness Programme, led by the private sector, in its plans. The key is for each stakeholder to share its agenda, for these agendas to be reconciled, and for public policies to be formed based on this consensus, followed by constant monitoring and tracking to ensure progress.
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