The Panamanian nation is organized
as a sovereign and independent state, known as the Republic of
Panama. The power is solely vested in the people and exercised
by the state, which functions through the Executive, Legislative
and Judicial branches, as is expressed in the first two articles
of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, which
lays down the social, economic and political principles of the
To date, Panama has had four constitutions, introduced in the
years 1904, 1941, 1946 and 1972. The latter was revised in 1983.
A noteworthy constitutional amendment, voted by two successive
assemblies in 1994, affirms that Panama will have no army, only
bodies of specialized police.
The government of Panama is divided into a central government
and ''decentralized" government entities. The central government
is led by the cabinet, which consists of the president, vice presidents
and ministers of state under the direction of the president. Thus,
the cabinet represents the three powers of the state: Executive,
Legislative and Judicial. The Comptroller General's office and
the Electoral Tribunal are also represented on the Cabinet.
The Executive branch comprises the president, the vice-presidents
and the ministers of state. The president and the first and second
vice presidents are elected by direct popular vote, and the president
chooses the ministers.
There are thirteen ministries: Ministry of the Presidency, Ministry
of Government and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ministry
of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI),
Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA), Ministry of Public
Works (MOP), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry
of Labor and Job Development (MITRAB), Ministry of Housing (MIVI),
Ministry of Canal Affairs, and Ministry of Youth, Children, Women
The Legislative Assembly is composed of members elected by popular
vote from electoral districts at the same time as the presidential
vote. These legislators serve for five years and may be reelected
for one consecutive period. The Legislative Assembly must approve
the nominations that the president makes for ministers of state
and high court judges. Among its functions are: to make, reform
or repeal the nation's laws and regulations, approve or disapprove
international treaties negotiated by the executive arm, approve
the budget and establish or change political divisions. The Assembly
is also charged with the responsibility of assisting the Executive
branch to maintain a state of peace and it has the power to declare
The judiciary comprises the Supreme Court, subordinate tribunals
and district and municipal courts. The Supreme Court consists
of nine judges who serve a ten-year term. Among the functions
of the Supreme Court is the enforcement of the constitution, dealing
with criminal proceedings against functionaries of the state,
and finding administrative solutions in labor disputes in government
The Electoral Tribunal
The Electoral Tribunal is an autonomous institution charged
with making and interpreting the electoral laws, and directing
the electoral process. It consists of three judges, elected for
ten years and one representative each from the Legislative Assembly,
the Supreme Court and the Executive branch. The Electoral Tribunal
also organizes the process of "cedulación" or
provision of identity cards to all Panamanian citizens over 18
years of age.
The Office of the Governor
The Governor is the highest authority of each of the provinces.
This position is named directly by the president.
The Municipalities are autonomous political community organizations
established in all districts of the country. Each municipality
has a municipal council of elected representatives. The role of
the municipalities includes promoting development and social welfare
of each community, execution of national laws, and the establishment
and operation of works and services within the community.
The General Comptroller's Department is another independent state
entity with the responsibility of the nation's budget, its internal
and external debt, of managing public funds and property, of rendering
financial statements of public funds to the Executive Branch and
of preparing national statistics.
The decentralized institutions fall under the responsibility
of a ministry and follow the policies of the Government. Some
autonomous institutions are: National Mortgage Bank, National
Bank, the Government Savings Bank, Social Security Organization,
Regulatory Entity for Public Services, National Lottery, University
of Panama, Technical University, and the Colon Free Zone.
Some semi-autonomous institutions are: Comptroller General's
Department, Attorney General’s Office, Tourist Bureau, Fair
Trade and Customers Affairs Commission, Bank of Agricultural Development,
Agricultural Research Institute, Agricultural Marketing Institute,
Agricultural Insurance Institute, Autonomous Cooperatives Institute,
Civil Aeronautics, National Maritime Authority, Institute for
Special Skill Training, National Culture Institute, National Sports
Institute, Scholarship Institute, National Aqueduct and Sewage
System Institute, National Transport Authority and the Interoceanic
Region Authority, which has the role of administering and commercializing
the lands and facilities which passed to Panama’s control
as a result of the 1977 Treaty between Panama and the U.S. under
which the U.S. handed over the Canal and quit its military bases.
A special case is the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), created
in the 14th Constitutional title to administer the Canal and its
watershed. Due to its importance, it enjoys financial autonomy,
has its own assets and the right to manage them; its three-year
budget is not part of the State’s general budget.
ACP’s management is handled by an executive board of 11
members; one of them is nominated by the President, acts as Minister
of State for Canal Affairs and presides over the board.