Press Release

For immediate release: Wednesday, February 11, 1998

Vigorous opposition to proposed canal rate increase is expected


A proposed 500-percent increase in tolls the Panama Canal Commission seeks to impose on yachts, small fishing boats, and other small vessels will be counterproductive for the national economy, spokesmen for three of the country’s principal yacht clubs said today. They, together with representatives of business organizations, government agencies and members of the public, will express vigorous opposition to the increase proposed by Canal Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta, at a public hearing scheduled for the Miraflores Locks auditorium on Friday, Feb. 13, at 9 a.m.

Also expected to testify at the hearing is César Tribaldos, general manager of the Instituto Panameño del Turismo (IPAT, the government tourist agency), which also opposes the increase.

In January, the Panama Canal Commission unveiled a plan to impose a minimum toll of $1,500 for Canal transits. The impact of the proposed increase will fall exclusively on private boats and small fishing vessels, as the large oceangoing ships that are the Canal’s principal users already pay much higher fees. The increase, proposed for May, will not take effect until it has received final approval from the Commission’s Board of Directors, which cannot take place until after a public hearing has been held.

"At the same time government and business are trying to push tourism in Panama, Canal administrators are trying to place obstacles in that path," declared John Stobie, acting commodore of the Balboa Yacht Club; Alberto Jova of the Panama Canal Yacht Club; and Craig Owings, commodore of the Pedro Miguel Boat Club;

"According to official statistics, approximately 750 yachts, proceeding from ports all over the world, transit the Canal ever year. Hitting them with an additional charge of more than a thousand dollars each will have to reduce the number of visits, while it will provide for the Canal additional revenues of less than 1 percent.

"A Panama City family with a private boat who wish to spend a weekend in Kuna Yala or Bocas will now face tolls of $3,000. "What the increase will achieve," the spokesmen said, "is the sending of a message that will soon go ’round the world on the Internet and in the communications media: In Panamá, the new slogan is ¡Turista Go Home! It was hoped that increasing Panamanian representation on the Canal’s Board of Directors and in its administration would have resulted in greater protection for the country’s economic interests, but unfortunately we are seeing just the opposite.

"The owners and crew of the private boats who visit Panama, at both ends of the waterway. Tend to stay in the country for two or three weeks. During that time, they carry out repairs that can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, they buy fuel, provisions, and they go on shore to visit the country’s other attractions. Nevertheless, the reality is that it is the Canal—Panama’s main tourist attraction—that brings them here in the first place. To impose a toll of $1,500 will do but little to reduce the Canal’s supposed deficit, but it will reduce this annual infusion of foreign spending into the economy, having a negative impact on Panama’s business and the employment it provides.

"For the administrators of the Canal, yachts and small fishing boats are merely a bother, which is understandable, but there exist many alternatives—including better scheduling coordination, better grouping of several boats in each lockage, revised insurance regulations, etc.—to deal with an administrative problem," they said in their communiqué.

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Copyright © 1998 Pedro Miguel Boat Club
November 13, 2000 07:06