Panama Negotiations Now Centering on Medicines & Education

At the dialogue table, 2 of the 8 points, that were presented in a list of demands have been addressed, the prices of basic foods and fuel.

By Santiago Chang (Telemetro)

HAVANA TIMES – The talks between the Panamanian Government and unions and other organized civil society groups centered on Thursday on the cost and supply of medicines in the Social Security Fund and in the Ministry of Health. At the same time, the discussion of the fourth point began on complying with the Law of 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education.

For the discussion of the education issue, the Minister of Education, Maruja Gorday, joined the table, indicating that a settlement for the strike period which began on July 1, will be addressed, and that it is hoped that classes will restart next Monday. The teachers’ union representatives said that may be possible if the education issue is satisfactorily resolved.

Gorday indicated that the possibility of extending the school calendar to make up for the lost month will depend on negotiations.

On the subject of medicines, the representatives of the United People for Life Alliance, the National Association for the Rights of the Organized People (Anadepo) and the Ngäbe-Buglé Indigenous Comarca, raised some specific aspects such as:

    -Access to quality medicines without the criminal bureaucracy

    -Regulation of the profit margin on medicines in the chain of purchase and distribution of medicines in private pharmacies

    -Direct purchase abroad from companies in other countries

    -Effective implementation of improvements in purchasing processes of the Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Health

    -Encourage national companies to manufacture within the country

For its part, the Government presented a counterproposal for these points:

    -Eliminate the term “criminal bureaucracy” because bureaucracies are not criminal, but legal processes that must be resolved

    -They do not agree with the wording of the direct purchase abroad because it is “unsatisfactory”, it should be discussed in the Technical Committee on Medicines

    -Improve explanation on the regulation of the profit margin because it addresses constitutional issues

    -The processes of the Social Security Fund must be addressed by the plenary session of the board of directors of that entity

    -Regarding the incentive of manufacturing within the country, the Government is developing a project called “Local Industry”

When the talks began on July 21, eight demands were detailed for discussion.

  1. A lowering of basic food prices without affecting producers. (The first now agreed on)
  2. A lowering and freeze on fuel prices. (Now under discussion)
  3. Supplying the Ministry of Health and Social Security pharmacies with sufficient medicines and lowering their price, without privatizing them.
  4. Complying with a mandate for 6% of the PIB to be earmarked to Education
  5. Lowering the price of electricity
  6. A discussion on Social Security Fund issues.
  7. Addressing corruption and transparency
  8. Establishing a multi-sector mechanism for follow up

Thus far, consensus has been reached on the first two points.

With respect to the basic food basket, an act of consensus and disagreement was signed, among which a reduction of 30% on a list of 72 products was agreed.  

Regarding the issue of fuel, the table reached partial consensus, one of them is to maintain the price per gallon at US $3.25 even if the price rises at the international level, as well as the guarantee of controls by Acodeco, the consumer protection agency.

After nationwide protests closed schools and roads, the dialogue table was installed on July 21 with the mediation of the Catholic Church.  They have met daily ever since to address the issues posed.  The Pan American Highway which crisscrosses Panama with considerable traffic to and from Central America, was open in the last couple days, although truckers, bus companies and individuals are wary of possible renewed roadblocks depending on the success of the negotiations.

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