Country Report Panama March 1998 Main report

Money & finance: President decrees banking reform

Under the special powers he has during the legislature's recess, the president has enacted the long-awaited banking reform law. This will have to be ratified by the Legislative Assembly in the session opening in March, but given the administration's comfortable majority there, its approval is a near certainty. The overt aim is to enhance Panama's appeal as an international financial service centre, by introducing transparency and proper surveillance. The text of the law has yet to be released, but it is known to propose the setting up of a Banking Superintendency, which will supervise all banking activities and have access to all accounts and documentation. This would replace a system which gives complete bank secrecy. Although newspaper reports did not address the issue, it appears that the superintendent would have the right to decide whether or not the information is to be shared with a foreign government. This is of great relevance to the investigation of the laundering of drugs money, and for this reason banking reform has figured large in Panama's relations with the US. The law also addresses the issue of bank quality, by applying Basle Accord standards on contingent liabilities and capital requirements, as well as establishing concentration limits. It is hoped that the law will create a regulatory environment for new services such as leasing companies and investment banking.

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