Ex-President’s Elegance Cost Panama Dearly

November 5, 2004

PANAMACITY – This small nation’snew chief executive and many of its citizensare indignant or disgusted by revelationsthat their first-ever woman Presidentspent millions of dollars in off-the-booksgovernment funds on clothes, jewelry andaccessories.It has become clear since her term endedin September that former President MireyaMoscoso’s distinctive elegance came at theexpense of the Panamanian people.During her 1999-2004 leadership,Moscoso dipped into a $23 million “discretionary”account to go shopping at poshclothing and jewelry stores in Panama City.The erstwhile head of state also hadlavish tastes in decor, according to a partialexpenditure breakdown that was providedby the Comptroller’s Office and publishedin the local press.HER use of public funds for a fancyexecutive wardrobe has prompted widespreadcriticism, notably from successorMartín Torrijos, who said he shares thePanamanian people’s “indignation” overthe matter.With 40% of Panama’s nearly 3 millioncitizens living in poverty, sociologistRaul Leis said Moscoso’s exorbitant personalexpenditures represent an insult andlack of respect for the country’s needs.The ex-President’s spending sprees are“part of a culture of confusing the use ofpublic and private (assets),” Leis said.THE controversy surrounding theshopping habits of Moscoso, who alwaysdressed impeccably for public appearances,began to surface months before theend of her term when she refused to provideinformation about the expenditures.Just days before she left office on Sept.1, Moscoso finally spoke to reportersabout the spending, flanked by dozens oforganization representatives claiming tohave benefited from the funds.Sobbing as several of the ostensiblebeneficiaries thanked her for the generouscontributions, Moscoso said the moneyhad gone exclusively for scholarships,medical treatment, official trips andnational sports programs.But after the daily El Panama Americareported the former leader had spent $2.4million on clothing, accessories and decor,Moscoso changed her tune, admitting shehad purchased the clothes so as not toappear “in tatters,” and claiming that thejewelry purchases were “for gifts.”“A president has to give gifts, especiallywhen she goes abroad,” Moscoso said.THOUGH his predecessor insistsinvoices for the purchases are somewherein the presidential palace, PresidentTorrijos claims neither the jewelry nor thereceipts have surfaced, and has demandedthe Attorney General’s Office investigatethe matter.Moscoso, the self-proclaimed“President of the Poor,” was regarded asPanama’s worst head of state in 15 yearsby the end of her term, according to severalsurveys released in August.Her administration was plagued bycorruption charges and her profligacy wasoften fodder for newspaper articles, opinioncolumns and political cartoons.On Monday, the Torrijos governmentopened a probe into the activities ofMoscoso’s economy minister, NorbertoDelgado, who is accused of fraud.Several other officials from the lastadministration are being investigated foralleged irregularities in the management ofmillions of dollars in aid from Taiwan.

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