Friday, February 7, 2014

Get a Clue, Panama

The Panama government is in a deadlock over money with GPUC, the Spanish/Italian construction consortium that's building the Panama Canal expansion for $3.1 billion.  They want about $1.6 billion to finish the job.

It's a big deal, because the bigger locks in the expansion will allow canal revenue to increase from the current $1 billion a year to a projected $4 billion a year, according to Dan Molinski.

Panama chose a Spanish/Italian consortium to build the canal expansion for $3.1 billion, and you can see why.  To select mega-construction firm Bechtel would mean letting the Yankee imperialist nose back inside the tent.  Nobody in Panama wants that.

But, according to Bechtel Group Inc. whinings to the US State Department unearthed by Wikileaks, the European consortium bought the job.  The "consortium couldn't even 'pour the concrete' for the accepted $3.1 billion bid," according to a Bechtel memo.

OK chums, but compare $1.6 billion against the $3 billion per year in increased revenue from the new locks, which will allow ships 1,400 ft long by 180 ft wide to use the canal, compared with 1,000 ft by 110 feet at present.  Get a clue; get the expansion finished!

Mind you, the ships using the canal even now are BIG.  You may read about the miserable Panamax limititation, that is hog-tying today's shippers and shipowners.  But even Panamax ships look amazing  and enormous as they transit the the Gatun lake and approach the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest part of the canal, just before the canal hits the locks on the Pacific side of the canal.

Visiting Panama, I can see the problem.  The Panamanian government is a small affair, a thing of luxurious SUVs and comfortable sinecures.  Visit the foreign ministry and its cool central courtyard surrounded by bureaucratic offices.  But the courtyard's dominating feature is a ramp down to the SUV garage, and it seems that high-end SUVs are continuously appearing from and disappearing into the garage.

Panama has inherited the canal as a working enterprise, a cash cow, from the US.  What does it know about big construction, and high risk construction projects?  So you'd expect that the rough tough construction guys would overmatch the SUV-and-sinecure softened Panamanians.

And, of course, the government must deal with the Panamanian people, who don't want some greedy capitalists making money off "their" canal.

Well, I'd say that it's time to finish the canal, get the revenue from those Panamax-plus container ships, and start to work on the infrastructure, which is clearly pretty old and second rate.  Then Panama's glittering billion dollar mile of 40-storey high rises can transform into a trillion dollar mile, and more where that came from.

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