Confucius once said, “In a well governed nation, poverty is a cause for shame. But, in a badly governed nation, a cause for shame is wealth.” This is especially true of Panama with a tiny population and an even tinier, super rich privileged class. In this one point is where Panama deviates from any comparisons made to Dubai; Panama’s majority of citizens live below or just above the poverty line, with a very small, struggling middle class losing ground every day.
In the analysis given by the U.N.’s objectives for erradicating extreme poverty, we are shown the following:
In Panama about 4 out of 10 people live in total poverty (36.8%) and the total population of 16.6%, or 508,700 Panamanians are in extreme poverty … In urban areas of the country full and extreme poverty reached its lowest level, 20.0% and 4.4% of the population, respectively; in non-indigenous rural areas just over half of the residents are poor (54.0%) and one in five persons (22.0%) lives in extreme poverty; in indigenous rural areas, almost all of its residents are poor (98.4%) and extreme poverty is 90% of the population.
With this dramatic picture of poverty before us in our small Isthmian nation we can only balk at such absurd comparisons with the city of Dubai. The “Dubai of Latin America?” I think not.
The task before the future governments of Panama will be awesome if they are to set much more realistic goals to bring our economic growth, which stands at 8.5% (IMF March 2013 figures), and our public policies on a more equitable track to make a definite impact on the quality of life of the people- the majority of people. The following issues will be:
1. Food- in Panama we talk of the Canasta Básica or the basic food basket has risen to $320.85. In an IPSOS survey taken this past May, 86% of 1,200 Panamanians cite the problem of the Canasta Básica as the gravest problem in our country. The basic food basket has skyrocketed out of the reach of most Panamanians, and this during a presidential administration whose outstanding campaign promise was that the Ricardo Martinelli government would insure the lowering of food prices. Of course, the outcome was predictable from a supermarket baron.
2. Water: the equitable distribution of water resources to both residential areas as well as to the smaller more vulnerable agricultural communities will be crucial if we are to avoid a disastrous struggle for this vital liquid and if we are to bring many of our present public health problems under check. Ironically, Panama has been tauted as a natural watershed.
3. Public transportation. The plan that the government announced to improve public transportation through the institution of the MetroBus system has failed rotundly. The poor quality of both the Metrobuses and the administrative service provider- Sonda- has left a sour taste in the mouths of thousands of users and high levels of discontent. The problem remains that given how the improvised plans to improve mass transit have fallen on its face, how is the next government going to disentagle the enormous administrative problems left behind by the present government.
4. Public Health- has reached even greater lows in the public’s opinion as the recent poisoning deaths of nine newborn infants has raised even more ire amongst insured patients of the Seguro Social hospital. This is just an accumulation of many signs of a public health system gone awry.
There are few arguments left to justify an intelligent comparison between Panama and Dubai. One thing is certain: the future governments will have to show much more amor de pátria– love for their country and its people, if we want to come even close to the paradise the emirati’s have carved out of the desert for their citizens. Panama would then be on its way to being a well governed nation.