Government Procurement and Contracts_news
Compartimos el Texto Único de la Ley 22 de 27 de junio de 2006, que regula la contratación pública, ordenado por la Ley 61 de 2017, incluyendo y reflejando para fácil referencia las modificaciones aprobadas mediante la Ley 153 de 8 de mayo de 2020. Tomar nota que estas modificaciones entrarán en efecto a partir del 8 de septiembre de 2020.
Para acceder a dicho documento hacer clic aquí.
January 13, 2020
For a long time, we have heard in different social media, for various reasons, some more positive than others, information related to Turnkey Contracts and the State indebtedness resulting from the Partial Payment Accounts (in Spanish, “Cuentas de Pago Parcial”) and Certificates of No Objection (in Spanish, “Certificados de No Objeción”). Do you know what these legal concepts that have been used to finance the largest State projects in the last two government administrations are? Let’s get today into a few lines, because in the words of Rudyard Kipling “You learn more by what people talk to each other or by what it is understood, than by asking questions.”
- What is a Turnkey Contract?
Turnkey Contracts are regulated by Law 22 of 2006, as amended from time to time, concerning public procurement. This same law defines this type of contracts as: “the one in which the contractor undertakes before the State to perform different services, that must include as a general rule, studies, designs, supplies and execution of a project for a determined global price by the bidder entity, in accordance with the provisions of the contract and of the tender documents”. These contracts may also include the equipment, operation of the project or any other provision within the contractor’s obligations. In addition, the contractor must have its own financing for the project.
Consequently, the contractor accepts responsibility of the project delivery (taking over construction risk) but in addition to the operation, in the sense that the mandate must include as the term says, “turnkey”, the project delivery ready to be put into operation by the State (for the purposes of this article I will refer to the State in general terms, without specifying or differentiating between Central Government, decentralized entities and public companies), which has carried out the correspondent bid.
The greatest responsibility assumed by the State in this type of contracts is the supervision of the construction of the respective project and payment to the contractor.
- What is a Partial Payment Account or a Certificate of No Objection?
First, is that both terms refer to the same type of legal instrument and have only been interchangeably used depending on the entity that issued them. For reference, the Ministry of Public Works, the Social Security Fund, Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica, S.A. and the National Institute of Culture have named it as “Partial Payment Accounts”; nevertheless; the Ministry of Health and the Metro de Panamá have named it as “Certificate of No Objection.” Therefore, from now on, we will call them the “Payment Documents”. Having clarified the above, the Payment Documents have been regulated through regulations and/or procedures adopted and promulgated by the respective entities as well as in the Turnkey Contracts. There is no law that regulates them.
In general terms, the main characteristics of the Payment Documents are:
- Once each Payment Document has been issued, it constitutes an autonomous, independent, unconditional and irrevocable obligation of the contracting entity for the amount expressed therein and is payable on the date indicated in the document without the possibility that once issued, the entity can make tax reductions, fines, penalties, compensations, deductions, claims or other withholdings.
- The contracting entity may only deduct or compensate amounts from the Payment Documents to be issued.
- Once the Payment Document is issued by the entity and endorsed by the General Comptroller of the Republic, contains the net amount to pay.
- Having issued and endorsed the Payment Document, the contracting entity will only have the resource to initiate corresponding legal proceedings against the respective contractor or the guarantor for taxes, fines, penalties, compensations, deductions, claims or other withholdings; and
- Payment Documents must be paid on the date indicated on them, even in the case of early termination, suspension or administrative resolution of the Turnkey Contract, regardless of the cause or claims between the contracting entity, the contractor and/or the bonding company, with respect to any matter related or not to the project and regardless of whether the project has been completed.
In accordance with the information published by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and on the website datosabiertos.gob.pa as of October 31st, 2019, there were Payment Documents that sum up the amount of US$834,770,000 (payable between October 2019 and until the year 2022) as detailed by contracting entity and by the respective project, on the website of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (www.mef.gob.pa) and www.datosabiertos.gob.pa.
- Why are Payment Documents attractive in financing?
Two important facts mentioned in previous answers: in Turnkey Contracts the contractor must have its own financing for the project and the inherent characteristics of the Payment Documents. Based on these two factors, the Payment Documents, as mean of payment for the contracting entities, turn the Turnkey Contracts into a way of securing and conserving the interest of financial entities in relevant State projects.
Financial institutions acquire the Payment Documents at a discount and the contractors assign these Payment Documents to the financial entities. The financial institutions are certain of the payment from the State on the date set forth in the Payment Document regardless of what happened with the respective work or project.
In case of non-payment by a contracting entity, provided that it is part of the Central Government of a Payment Document, there is always the possibility of suing the State, municipality or any other decentralized, autonomous or semi-autonomous entity, under the procedure established in the articles 1047 and 1048 of the Judicial Code.
- What does the issuance of Payment Documents represent for the State?
The Payment Documents do not represent a financial indebtedness to the State, that is, they are not shown in their finances as in the case of bonds issuance. The Payment Documents are accounts payable as a result of investment expenses, which are also of long duration and therefore, must be covered by subsequent general State budgets (the general budget of the State is approved annually).
Based on the foregoing, and since everything must be shown in the annual general state budget, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, for example, per each Turnkey Contract, must: (i) give its no objection to the conditions related to the dates and payment amounts of the work, as well as its duration and the total amount, prior to the call for bid; and (ii) once the bid has been awarded to a contractor, funding proposal must be delivered which will be subject to its review, negotiation and subsequent approval.
- How does the Social Tax Responsibility Law affect?
Law 34 of June 5, 2008 on Social Tax Responsibility, as amended from time to time, aims to establish rules, principles and methodologies to consolidate tax discipline in the financial management of the Public Sector. Said law and the General State Budget Law, refer to the term “Non-Financial Public Sector”, as the group of all the entities of the General Government (composed by the National Assembly, the General Comptroller of the Republic, the different ministries, the Judicial Authority, the Public Ministry and the Electoral Court) and Non-Financial Public Companies (industrial or commercial units owned by the Government that sell public goods and services on a large scale, and that are constituted as stock capital companies or of other type of legal status such as: the Colon Free Zone, the Panama Maritime Authority or the National Charity Lottery). The “Non-Financial Public Sector” differs from the total Public Sector which includes public financial institutions, deposit collectors, Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica, S.A., Empresa Nacional de Autopistas, S.A., Aeropuerto Internacional Tocumen, S.A. and the Panama Canal Authority.
Article 10 of the Social Tax Responsibility Law provides that the annual laws of the General State Budget and the budget execution shall be subject to the guidelines of this law. In addition, it is set forth that the Gross Domestic Product of the reference shall be calculated by the National Statistics Institute of the General Comptroller of the Republic. The maximum limit of the Tax Balance deficit of the Non-Financial Public Sector will be of 3.50% of the Gross Domestic Product for fiscal year 2019, of 2.75% for fiscal year 2020, of 2.50% for fiscal year 2021 and 2.0% as of fiscal year 2023.
In addition, Article 13 of Executive Decree No. 52 dated June 3rd, 2019, which regulates the Social Tax Responsibility Law, establishes that the investment expenses to be made under the modalities of turnkey projects and of deferred payment projects in a tax term may not exceed 20% of the total investment expenses of the Non-Financial Public Sector in the respective fiscal period.
The use of this type of legal instruments as a form of payment allows contracting public entities to obtain greater efficiency in the financing of projects and to manage their annual budgets based on an agreed payment schedule. To the extent that the limits of the Social Tax Responsibility Law are met and complied, without requesting continuous waivers to these limits, they are still an efficient way to handle accounts payable debt due to the investment expenses necessary to keep public services at appropriate levels of services to the requirements of the population.
Kharla Aizpurua Olmos
Partner, Morgan & Morgan
Panama, January 7, 2020. For the fifth consecutive year, Morgan & Morgan has contributed with Doing Business 2020, a publication that summarizes regulations that enhance business activity across 190 economies.
The following attorneys of the firm received a “Certificate of Appreciation” for their valuable contribution:
The report, which was published by the World Bank Group, is is available for download here.
For the past few decades, Panama has established public-private partnerships (“PPPs”) in projects as diverse as toll roads, water treatment plants, ports, telecommunications networks and the generation and distribution of electricity. These projects, however, have been created and managed under either a general (and, for current-day standards, insufficient) concessions law dating back to 1988; industry-specific (and, sometimes, project-specific) legislation enacted in the mid-to-late-90’s; or the general public procurement law enacted in 2006. In recent years, framework PPP legislation was discussed by the National Assembly, only to be voted down in 2011. It was then considered again at various points between 2014 and 2018, although never formally given any debate before the legislature. In the meantime, a 2017 study commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked Panama 18th (out of 19 countries listed, with only Venezuela lagging behind), in terms of PPP regulatory frameworks in the region.
In light of these circumstances, the Panamanian Government took a decisive step forward in developing an updated (and more comprehensive) PPP legislative framework, as a means to: a) provide an option for developing major infrastructure projects without compromising the Government’s indebtedness levels, b) encourage private investment and job creation, and c) strengthen Panama’s competitive position vis-à-vis other Latin American countries (many of which enacted successful PPP legislation long ago). On July 31, 2019, barely a month after taking office, the Administration of President Laurentino Cortizo submitted a framework PPP bill before the National Assembly. On September 11, 2019, the Assembly passed the bill, which is now only pending signature by the President and publication in the Official Gazette in order to be enacted into law.
The new law will provide a much-needed regulatory and institutional framework in order to allow for the development of major projects without requiring substantial short-term disbursements of public funds.
The new legislation seeks to attract capital from private investors who, at the same time, will bring forth their experience, know-how, equipment, technologies and technical and financial capabilities to the fore. These resources will be used in order to “create, develop, improve, operate and / or maintain public infrastructure for the provision of public services.” Thus, the PPP law both allows and requires the private sector to develop, finance, build, operate and maintain – for an amount of time specified in the corresponding contract – projects geared to provide public services (e.g., roads, bridges, subway lines, electric transmission lines, etc.). The law provides for a maximum contract length of 30 years (which can be extended for up to 10 additional years). Thus, the idea is for the State to enter into long-term partnerships with investors that have the requisite experience to not only build, but also operate and maintain these projects, meeting the service and quality standards established in the RFP documents as well as the PPP contract.
The institutional framework for PPPs is also an innovation of the new law since – unlike the existing public procurement and administrative concession laws – PPP contracts involve not only the contracting government entity and the PPP contractor, but also three new government entities:
- A Governing Body (the Ente Rector), comprised by the Minister of the Presidency (who will preside over it), the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Economy and Finance, the Minister of Commerce and Industries and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In addition, the Comptroller General of the Republic, although not granted voting rights within the Ente Rector, will nonetheless be a part of it and entitled to voice her/his opinion at meetings. Among other functions, the Ente Rector will authorize the drafting of technical reports on projects that may be subject to implementation as PPPs, the approval for projects to be designed as PPPs and of the RFP documents (including the draft PPP agreement), as well as approving any changes to the PPP contract once it is in force;
- A National PPP Secretariat, serving under the Ministry of the Presidency and whose functions include – among others – providing technical and operational support to the Ente Rector, as well as developing the criteria for selecting PPP projects, the guidelines for assigning risks and granting of guarantees, as well as the guidelines for the design of the RFP documents and model PPP contracts; and
- An Advisory Committee, made up of four members of the business sector, two members of the academic sector and two representatives of organized labor. The Advisory Committee can recommend potential PPP projects to the Ente Rector, through the National PPP Secretariat.
Prior to the PPP bidding process, preliminary studies must be carried out based on six eligibility elements established in the law (social benefits, economic cost-benefit analysis, risk allocation, service indicators, feasibility studies, as well as environmental and legal aspects). The Contracting Public Entity must then prepare a technical report, subject to the opinion and observations of the National PPP Secretariat, which must then be sent to the Ente Rector, so that it can decide whether the project will be bid out as a PPP project.
Projects with a value of less than fifteen million dollars cannot be tendered as PPP’s, except in the case of municipal projects, in which case the criteria for granting exceptions will be further developed in the regulations that will be issued after the law comes into effect. Furthermore, projects cannot be implemented as PPP’s in any of the following cases: a) if existing commitments under government contracts then in force exceed 30% of actual investments in the previous year, b) if existing commitments in the following five years – under contracts then in force – exceed 30% of the projected investment of the contracting public entity, pursuant to the Government’s Five-Year Investment Plan in the respective fiscal years, or c) the total cumulative present value of existing commitments of the Non-Financial Public Sector in PPP contracts exceeds 7% of gross domestic product.
The selection of PPP contractors will be carried out under objective criteria, since the contract will be awarded to the bidder that meets the mandatory requirements and submits the best economic offer. In addition, there are clear limits on the amounts and time periods for which PPP contracts can be modified. These provisions seek to eliminate subjective factors in awarding PPP projects, as well as avoiding overly expensive addenda to PPP contracts.
In order to facilitate financing structures – either through syndicated credit facilities or through capital markets – the law provides for the option (or, in case the project is partially funded through government subsidies or contributions, the obligation) for the assets involved in the project to be placed into a trust to be managed by a trustee that is licensed in Panama. This will further inoculate the projects and their related assets should the contractor face liabilities vis-à-vis third parties throughout the duration of the contract.
Finally, the grounds for disqualification currently included in the existing public procurement law are toughened, as these will disqualify bidders for a 10-year period, rather than the 5-year period established under the public procurement law.
It is important to bear in mind that the PPP law does exclude certain services and institutions from contracting under the PPP framework. Namely, the State-owned water company, the Panama Canal Authority, the Social Security Administration and the governmental financial entities and regulators, may not contract for any work or service under the PPP law. Furthermore, public health, education and public safety services cannot be contracted by any government entity under a PPP structure. Time will tell if – once PPPs begin to be implemented under the new law – the political climate will allow the excluded entities and/or services into the fold.
All in all, the new law is an important milestone in bringing Panama’s PPP regulatory framework in line with those of other Latin American countries, which will hopefully usher in a new era of success in major infrastructure investment.