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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
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Wikileaks Hit Panama Canal

While Wikileak cables have hit all over the world, it was interesting for me to read about cables relating to the expansion of the Panama Canal.

According to the State Department leaks, the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli was quoted as saying he was worried about the expansion project while Vice President Juan Carlos Varela called it a “disaster.”

All of this created quite a stir in Panama and even lead to embarrassment in the United States. The Julian Assange Wikileaks leaks directly related to the selection of a Spanish lead coalition to build the third set of locks at a cost of $3.2 billion.

In my opinion, the Wikileak cables, dealing with the construction of a third set of locks at the Panama Canal, were blown out of proportion by the media. Assuming procedures at the Canal were followed, the awarding of the $3.2 billion contract to build the third set of locks to the Spanish Sacyr Coalition was not out of line. It was probably more about the failure of Bechtel’s efforts to put together a competitive bid. And there is no doubt that Bechtel lobbied the United States Government vigorously.

The Panama Canal Authority has made every effort to be sure of the most transparent process possible. Set procedures were laid out by the Authority to deal with the selection of the “consortia” which was to undertake the construction of the third set of locks – the largest contract to be awarded in the expansion project. One of the world’s largest accounting firms was scheduled to work closely with the Canal Authority’s staff to be sure that the Third Set of Locks Evaluation Committee followed closely the vigorous guidelines for the selection process.

In addition, two world class law firms were selected to oversee construction contracts and loan agreements.

One other effort made by the Authority to be prepared to handle the massive expansion effort was to have the University of Texas at Dallas provide training for Canal executives and staff. Some 145 Canal Authority employees received extensive training by the University of Texas in Panama.

There is nothing wrong to examine the transparency of the expansion project. The key is that transparency and democracy remain as the focal points for Panama. If so, I am sure the nation will continue to prosper and develop the Canal in an effective way.

Supporting my position about the process, Juan Sosa, former Panamanian Ambassador to the United States stated, “The bidding process in relation to firms engaged in the expansion has been an example of fairness, professionalism, and transparency.”

In addition, the total $5.25 billion project is fully on time and within budget – something which I was not sure would happen when the expansion was announced in 2007.

Panama should be proud of its efforts to date. The completion of the expansion will more than double the capacity of the Canal Completion scheduled for 2014 – the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal’s opening.

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