The garbage business

In times of urgent economic recovery, due to the pandemic, it is urgent to be dynamic and creative. The public and private sectors need to use their creativity to remake the country. Making things easier is imposed and the first example of this flexibility has to be given by the rulers, removing from the middle the many bureaucratic barriers that make new commercial and industrial ventures cumbersome. The need to reactivate the economy requires that we all get our batteries and for real. More concrete actions than empty promises and fewer empty words, which produce expectations for a few days and then great frustrations.

Before 1989, it was said that Japanese businessmen had presented a proposal to Panama to process that wealth called solid waste, which we know as garbage. They say that those of the Rising Sun were perplexed and disillusioned: they did not understand something very typical of the tropics: the “what’s for me?” It is easy to imagine that this story was repeated more than once. Worse still, it has settled on those with a drop of power.

After the US invasion, as mayor of Panama, I considered a priority to provide the city with a better waste collection system. A matter of great health and social interest, neglected during the 31 years of the so-called “democracy”. The “what’s for me?” it has screwed up everything. Nothing has been done; the rulers have not allowed it. Of course, they have increased the cemetery of damaged and repaired trucks that are never fixed; the dance of the acquired pieces that never reached their destination. The unhealthy burning continues, causing damage to the lands where it is deposited and the communities that live around it, first in the Crematorio (today Costa del Este) and now in Cerro Patacón. It follows all kinds of negotiations by a few, in a matter that affects both public health, such as truck parts that are never repaired, new equipment acquired at exorbitant prices, the exorbitant payment to those who manage the reservoirs of garbage that help in political campaigns and … a long etcetera.

From the Mayor’s Office, I was able to learn how the problem has been resolved satisfactorily in large cities such as Madrid and Houston, and where the handling of solid waste has become big business for many, starting with citizens, for that of being able to breathe air. much purer. In Panama there are two Spanish companies that recycle, although not on the scale it should be.

Currently, there is a proposal to the national government (existing since the time of Varela), according to which a US company would provide Panama with the way to process all solid waste at the national level. Treatment plants would be installed nationwide, with an investment of fifteen hundred million dollars, which they would contribute at no cost to the Government. What would they receive in return? That they be granted a concession to produce energy for 25 years, keeping the highest levels of environmental protection and safety with cutting-edge technology, based on similar plants worldwide. Garbage dumps would end, since all waste would be processed nationally, and those that cannot, such as glass and metal, would be put aside.

The major barriers encountered: you have to consult the Cleaning Authority; request authorization from ASEP for the concession to produce energy. According to those in charge, those of the Cleaning Authority will have to be previously trained in these new procedures. Those who knew about the offer since 2015, with the fact that they were not PRD, are no longer there: you have to start from scratch. Y…? At this rate, this company or anyone that makes similar offers, will remain there until June 30, 2024, when the next government changes. Unless there is “someone” powerful in the “bisness”.

Lack of executive hand of the rulers. It requires many projects; but let them become reality. As long as those executive skills do not exist, nothing will walk. We can bring in the best experts in Public-Private Partnerships from abroad or create ministries for Investment, but without that decision to be executives from the Government, unfortunately nothing will prosper. This decision is where it is shown, in a presidential country like Panama, that, for everything to move forward, the one who must exercise his command is Nito Cortizo. Nobody else.

Guillermo A. Cochez.