Aid to Panama

Improving the Criminal Justice System Gao ID: NSIAD-92-147 May 12, 1992

For more than two decades, the Panamanian military and police forces--known since 1983 as the Panamanian Defense Forces--essentially ran the country, controlling all branches of government. Military and police involvement in corruption and human rights abuses were widespread. In the aftermath of the U.S. military invasion, the United States began programs to help Panama reform its criminal justice system. This report discusses the status and effectiveness of U.S. efforts to assist Panama (1) develop professional police forces, (2) create an independent judiciary, and (3) improve 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.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.