Aid to Panama:

Improving the Criminal Justice System

NSIAD-92-147: Published: May 12, 1992. Publicly Released: May 21, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed U.S. efforts to assist Panama in reforming its criminal justice system by: (1) developing professional police forces; (2) creating an independent judiciary; and (3) improving prison conditions.

GAO found that: (1) as of March 1992, the Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) had provided $13.2 million in economic support funds, and $9.3 million in military assistance funds to help equip, train, and professionalize Panama's National Police and Judicial Technical Police; (2) although the Panamanian government has made progress in professionalizing its police forces, several problems still remain, including poor pay, few benefits, lack of public confidence in the police, turnover of police leadership, and politicization of the police forces; (3) the lack of Panamanian financial resources devoted to the police could hinder the National Police and the Judicial Police from becoming self-sufficient and effective; (4) on March 8, 1991, the Agency for International Development (AID) signed a 5-year, $12-million agreement to assist Panama in improving its administration of justice; (5) as of November 1991, AID had spent or committed $2.1 million to repair the Panamanian Supreme Court building, purchase office supplies and equipment, hold workshops, and support several other projects and activities; (6) although Panama has begun to increase financial support for fiscal year (FY) 1992, enact legislation, and make administrative reforms to improve the judicial system, the court system is clogged with a backlog of cases, suspects are detained for long periods awaiting trial, prosecutorial authorities weaken the legal guarantees of defendants, suspects lack access to adequate legal representation, and administrative courts operate outside the judicial system; and (7) U.S. assistance for corrections has been minimal, since legislation prohibits the use of foreign assistance funds for prisons.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The U.S. Embassy in Panama City verifies annually that the host government commitment is enough to ensure the sustainability of the program.

    Recommendation: Before a U.S. financial commitment to ICITAP is made for FY 1993, and for each FY thereafter, the Secretary of State should direct the U.S. Ambassador to Panama to obtain from the Panamanian government, a demonstration of Panama's resolve and capability to provide resources adequate to enable the program to succeed so that the U.S. government investment in the program will not be wasted.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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