The Colon Free Zone (CFZ) has aroused the interest of the government in selling off its lands, but it has poked a stick in a hornet’s nest.
This desire to raise funds has brought forth statements from various sectors, including Colon councilors, free zone employees, politicians, lawyers and more. The reality is that the government wants to change the law and legalize the sale of land within the free zone.
The planned bill repeals Decree Law 18 of June 17, 1948 and Executive Decree 428 of 1953 (the original base), creating a single instrument regulating the Colon Free Zone.
The president of the Colon Free Zone Users’ Association (AU), Severo Sousa said “there are unknown parameters and details of this sale. The way it is today, the draft does not reveal what will happen in the future. We cannot accept a sale of something when we do not know how much it will cost.
“The position of the Users’ Association is maximum rejection of the sale of land. In reaching a consensus, a call is made for a consensual decision between users, the free zone administration and the Government”.
The criticism of Souza is strongly echoed in statements by the former assistant manager of the free zone, Manuel Grimaldo, who also expressed his opposition to the sale of land in the commercial emporium that is being promoted by the current administrator, Leopoldo Benedetti.
“Benedetti will become a pirate by selling the assets of all the people of Colon, because it should not be sold under the pretext that the proceeds will be invested in Colon,” said Grimaldo.
Benedetti recently denied that the sale of the free zone land is produced by a lack of government liquidity, and said that it will benefit the Colon people because more jobs will be created while the province will receive 25 percent of the sale, from which it currently does not receive a dime.
For his part, Ricardo Quijano, Minister of Commerce and Industry said that currently 70% of free zone users own their buildings, while the rent of the land rent “is very low” ($1.40 per square meter). “With that money we can not make large infrastructure projects within the province and turn Colon into a cosmopolitan city,” he said.
The Minister of Commerce and Industry said that the only way in which projects can be developed is through the sale of free zone land.
“The land will pay the property tax that will go directly into the coffers of the City of Colon,” said Quijano.
Deputy Miguel Salas, of the opposition Panameñista Party, denounced the draft bill of the government “which is in its third revision.”
“The question we ask is, if this project is so good for Colon, why doesn’t anyone know why?”.
He added that the talk is “demagoguery” and that it will give 25% to projects of the water and sewerage entity, IDAAN, which are public works which everyone knows were already covered in the budget.
The government has criticized the accusations defining them as a political show.
President Ricardo Martinelli said that “they do not even know what the price or rent of the land is and they are already complaining.
“You can not deny the poor the opportunity to work,” he said.
In relation to the land, another government spokesman, the Minister of Economy and Finance, Frank De Lima, said he has hired a company to do an appraisal for the sale and rental of the land. He stated that the option will be to increase the rent, and whoever purchases the land will buy it outright. De Lima reassured what has been said on numerous occasions and continues to arouse astonishment, “25% of the sale of the land would remain in Colon to improve the streets and storm drains.”
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