Projects and project management in Panama
This year´s IPMA World Congress offered a great opportunity to us, visiting Panama and experiencing the spirit of Central America. The Republic of Panama is a key country of the region, bridging the Northern and Southern parts of the Americas. Panama is situated between Costa Rica and Columbia and sits between the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea. Before the Spaniards arrived during the 16th Century, indigenous tribes already lived here. In 1821, Panama separated from the Kingdom of Spain and joined a new union called “Gran Columbia”. With the support of the USA, Panama reached its independence in 1903, allowing the USA to build the Panama Canal
The idea of building a canal between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific spread already during the period of the Spanish colonial time. The first efforts to build an all-water route began with the French in 1880. But financial troubles and more importantly the many diseases made the initiative fail. After its independence in 1903, Panama negotiated an agreement with the USA for the construction of the Canal which the USA would finish on August 15, 1914 and then managed the waterway until 1999. Due to the political situation, the USA commenced on December 20, 1989 an invasion into Panama to safeguard the lives of own citizens in Panama, defend democracy and human rights, combat drug trafficking, and secure the neutrality of the Canal. Main parts of the district “El Chorrillo” were destroyed, the damage can still be seen. By 2000, Panamanian authorities took over the responsibility for the Panama Canal, which is the most important economical factor for the country and its development.
The Panama Canal serves as a maritime shortcut that saves time and costs in transportation of all kinds of goods. The 80-kilometer waterway connects the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in one of the narrowest points of the American continent. More than a million ships have passed the Canal since its opening. Last year the Canal celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The interoceanic waterway uses a system of locks that operate as water elevators and raises the ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, crossing through the Continental Divide before lowering the ships back into the sea level of the other side of the Isthmus. The toll for crossing the Canal is a key income for the Republic of Panama.
One of the most important projects at this time in Panama is the Canal Expansion Project. It aims at doubling the capacity of the Canal by next year. During a site visit we could experience the massive construction work going on in parallel to the existing Canal. With the expansion project Panama likes to better its position in comparison with the Suez Canal, the US Intermodal System and a recently started project in Nicaragua, the Nicaragua Canal. The Expansion Project is behind schedule and suffers from severe cost overruns, which seems to be a common scheme for many megaprojects. Finally, it seems to achieve the intended goals beginning of next year.
The ASOCIACIÓN PANAMEÑA DE GESTIÓN DE PROYECTOS (APGP) is the Panamanian Project Management Association and member of IPMA since 2009. It took over a leading role for the network of IPMA members in Latin America, called LATNET and helps to organise several events, including this year´s 29th IPMA World Congress. The event allowed to experience the rich cultural heritage, nature and wildlife of Panama. The APGP Young Crew invited young professionals from all around the globe to the Global Young Crew Workshop, exchanging experiences and striving to deepen their competences through education, training and certification. A close cooperation with several Universities of Panama enable APGP to move the profession fast forward.