Tuesday, May 27, 2008

News Briefs, 27/5//2008

La Prensa:  "English: A Stone in the Shoe."  The article reports on the failure of colegio students to demonstrate proficiency in English as evidenced by poor performance on exams.  According to the article, a 60% grade is passing; average grade was 53%  for 12th grade students.  The test has been mandatory since 2007.  It's bad news for the universities, too, because, since 2007,  proficiency in English is required to get a diploma.

La Prensa:  Panamanian economy, while growing, is slowing in rate, down 4% from this time last year.  Those sectors that have slowed: pretty much all the agricultural sectors, which is very bad news at this time of higher food prices, tonnage passing through the Canal, manufacturing in the food and textile industries, among others.  Officials are blaming the slowdown on high fuel prices.

La Estrella: Hydroelectric production at the plant in Bayano stopped this weekend due to low water levels.  However, the situation at Fortuna, here in Chiriquí, is getting back to normal with the steady--and at times--heavy rains we've been experiencing over the past week.  Heaven knows it's beginning to feel like August around here.

Interestingly enough, there have been demonstrations (reported in La Prensa in the past week) over Volcán way, protests by farmers and residents against a proposed hydroelectric project that would reduce if not outright eliminate water that has traditionally gone to small farmers there.

There have been accounts in La Prensa recently of demonstrations by parents and students at different primary schools that fiberglass removal has been inadequate and badly done. Today in Panamá Américana, there's an article quoting the Vice Minister of Education as admitting that many companies don't have experience in that work. Always leads me to wonder if there's a money trail there.

La Estrella: Torrijo's plan for assisting the agricultural sector with high costs consists of reducing the interest rates on loans to that sector to 2% and broadening the insurance coverage in case of natural disasters, accidents, etc affecting crops and harvests.  The president of ONAGRO (Organización Nacional Agropecuario) congratulated Torrijos on this measure, but also requested steps to reduce the number of middlemen between the producer and the market, saying that this is a major cause of the increase in costs to the consumer.

There's a much longer article in Dia a Dia on steps being taken to give consumer relief over high prices of basic foods.  It doesn't say when, but a program was started in the Azuero Peninsula that introduced measure to help producers and guarantee lower prices to the consumer.  One of those measure is that the government would buy 100% of the rice crop, which has at its base the rise of oil to $135/barrel last week.  this also would help eliminate speculation.  Urea, which is a prime chemical fertilizer used, would be sold at half the going rate.  The hope, of course, is that these measures benefitting producers will lower costs that will be passed directly to the consumer.

But meantime?   At the beginning, the article does mention some steps taken in other countries, such as the issue of food vouchers.  That certainly would help the poor in the short term.

Yesterday, I went to our local mercadito to buy a bag of cement, since our favorite construciton worker is coming here today to do a small project for us.  I shelled out $7.35 for the bag, remarking as I did so that the price had risen $0.06 since I last bought one.  The young woman at the cash register, someone I'm not familiar with, shyly started talking about the rise in food prices.  Then we got to talking about the increase in fuel prices.  

Panamá regulates the price of fuel, adjusting every two weeks; the next price adjustment is on the 28th.  Right now, we're paying $4.10 for a gallon of diesel, which about as cheap as you can get it locally.  Boquete is traditionally $0.10-$0.15 higher.  We were surprised last weekend to see stations in David $0.15 higher than our local bomba.  

For dead certain, the price is not going to drop, not with oil reaching ever higher records.  All we can do is wait and see, and continue to implement our plan to do even less driving than we are now.

So much for a brief post.

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