For the past few decades, Panama has established public-private partnerships ("PPPs") in projects as diverse as toll roads, water treatment plants, ports, telecommunications networks and the generation and distribution of electricity. These projects, however, have been created and managed under either a general (and, for current-day standards, insufficient) concessions law dating back to 1988; industry-specific (and, sometimes, project-specific) legislation enacted in the mid-to-late-90's; or the general public procurement law enacted in 2006. In recent years, framework PPP legislation was discussed by the National Assembly, only to be voted down in 2011. It was then considered again at various points between 2014 and 2018, although never formally given any debate before the legislature. In the meantime, a 2017 study commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked Panama 18th (out of 19 countries listed, with only Venezuela lagging behind), in terms of PPP regulatory frameworks in the region1.
In light of these circumstances, the Panamanian Government took a decisive step forward in developing an updated (and more comprehensive) PPP legislative framework, as a means to: a) provide an option for developing major infrastructure projects without compromising the Government's indebtedness levels, b) encourage private investment and job creation, and c) strengthen Panama's competitive position vis-à-vis other Latin American countries (many of which enacted successful PPP legislation long ago). On July 31, 2019, barely a month after taking office, the Administration of President Laurentino Cortizo submitted a framework PPP bill before the National Assembly. On September 11, 2019, the Assembly passed the bill, which is now only pending signature by the President and publication in the Official Gazette in order to be enacted into law.
The new law will provide a much-needed regulatory and institutional framework in order to allow for the development of major projects without requiring substantial short-term disbursements of public funds.
The new legislation seeks to attract capital from private investors who, at the same time, will bring forth their experience, know-how, equipment, technologies and technical and financial capabilities to the fore. These resources will be used in order to "create, develop, improve, operate and / or maintain public infrastructure for the provision of public...