Latin News: Luis Jorge Quijano, administrator, Panama Canal Authority

15 May

My latest published profile for Latin Newsvery much enjoyed researching and writing this (thanks to Sarah Sheldon for editing). Gave me a taste for possibly working there in future. Also made me curious about the Panama Canal Authority’s claim to the highest and most rigorous transparency, anti-corruption and corporate governence standards, versus being a sort of appendage (a GDP-critical one) of the Panama government – frequently said to be one of the most thoroughly corrupt in the Americas.

The Miraflores Lock at the Panama Canal. Flickr/Scott Ableman

The Miraflores Lock at the Panama Canal. Flickr/Scott Ableman

 

Who is he? The Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) (an autonomous government agency) recently named engineer Jorge Luis Quijano as the new Panama Canal Administrator.

Why watch him? Quijano, who officially takes over from Alberto Alemán Zubieta in September 2012, assumes the post at a critical time for the Canal and for Panama. The massive five-year US$5.2bn project to expand the Canal, by constructing a third set of locks, is due to be completed by October 2014. The expansion plan is crucial to President Ricardo Martinelli’s US$13.5bn 2010-2015 infrastructure plan to turn Panama into the “Hub of the Americas”. In its 2006 report on the expansion plan, the ACP forecasts that, in the most probable scenario, Canal traffic volume will go up from the 279 million PCUMS (Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System) tons that passed through the Canal during fiscal year 2005 to nearly 510m PCUMS tons in fiscal year 2025, which represents an 82% increase. With the expansion of the Canal, the ACP expects Panama’s GDP to experience an average annual growth of 5% over the next 20 years (from 2005) until reaching US$31.7bn in 2025. Alemán recently raised questions as to whether the expansion plan will be completed on time.

Place of birth: Panama City, Panama.

Education: An engineering graduate from Lamar University in Texas, Quijano also has a Master’s degree in industrial engineering and management from the same university. He is a graduate of Executive Management Programs, both in the Federal Executive Institute, Charlottesville, Va., and the Northwestern University, Chicago, Ill, US.

Public Life: Having started his professional development in the Texaco Oil Refinery in Panama, where he worked as a process engineer and product forecaster, Quijano began his career with the Panama Canal in 1975. He moved up the professional and managerial promotion ladder to the position of Maritime Operations Director in 1999, responsible for the largest department of the Canal organization, overseeing some 5,000 staff. Under his chairmanship of the ACP’s ISO 9001 Quality System Executive Committee, the Department of Maritime Operations obtained the ISO 9001 Certification issued by Det Norske Veritas in May 2001 and subsequent re-certifications. After having led the Maritime Operations department for over seven years covering the transition from US to Panamanian administration, since September 2006, he has been in charge of the US$5.25bn expansion plan; to that effect, he was appointed as Executive Vice-President of the Engineering and Programs Management Department. He has also intermittently taught at the University of Panama’s Graduate Law School Program covering subjects related to the maritime sector. On 9 March 2012, the ACP board of directors named Quijano the new ACP administrator.

Timeline:

1975: Joined Panama Canal.

1999: Appointed maritime operations director for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

2006: Put in charge of ACP’s Expansion Program.

9 March 2012: Appointed ACP administrator.

Strengths: A career engineer, Quijano has done many of the ‘oily rag’ jobs involved in running and developing the ACP over his long-running career there, and is well equipped to deliver. Just as important is his apparent independence from political affiliation or business connections. Over the years the various governments have strenuously sought to keep the reputation of the ACP intact; while this has been largely successful, a few clouds gathered in 2010 amid the release of a US embassy cable via ‘Wikileaks’ which pointed to corruption. Dated 8 January 2010, the cable raised questions over the July 2009 decision by the ACP to award the biggest contract under the expansion plan (for the US$3.12bn construction of a new set of locks) to the consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC). Led by Spanish construction giant, Sacyr-Vallehermoso, the GUPC includes Panama’s CUSA which is run by Rogelio Alemán – cousin of the ACP administrator. Quijano appears to have no such political connections and will be aware to the damage any further such allegations could have on a largely unblemished corporate governance record at the ACP.

Weaknesses: Alemán recently admitted that there had been a seven-month delay in pouring cement (which should have begun in January 2011 but didn’t start until July 2011) due to the fact that the mixture did not have the right specifications. The possible delay in delivering the project could prove embarrassing for Quijano who will oversee its completion. Quijano was cited by the international press as suggesting that the expansion project would probably be ready for a trial run in December 2014 while local news sources reported last month that the GUPC had written to the ACP to say it would not expect the Canal to be ready until April 2015.

Prospects: Quijano’s prospects are inextricably linked to the completion of the expansion project. Alemán recently told reporters that failure to observe the deadline could result in penalties of up to US$54m for the ACP while early completion would earn it US$50m. Some 6,000 workers on the expansion project went on strike in January 2012 and the resultant agreement over better wages and labour conditions should for the time being keep industrial action at bay. But if deadlines are missed and penalties are issued, political pressure will bear down hard on Quijano, and if the quality of the work is not up to scratch, he could face problems later in his tenure.

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4 Responses to “Latin News: Luis Jorge Quijano, administrator, Panama Canal Authority”

  1. Presidents Race Fan 24 May 2012 at 2:35 am #

    Thanks for responding so quickly; but I still don’t see a link.

  2. Presidents Race Fan 1 June 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Please, per the Flickr terms of use: If you are going to use this photo, it needs to include an attribution link back to the photographer’s photo stream on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ableman/2171326385/

    • mel stern 11 June 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      hi, I definitely added the link at the time I replied, but having just seen your second message I added it afrsh and tested the page – it is now definitely showing up – thanks again

      • Presidents Race Fan 11 June 2012 at 2:32 pm #

        Hi Mel. I’m confused. When I click on the photo, I stay on WordPress, and I don’t see any other link.

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