Returning To Our Vision For This Sunset Coast
Renovation of the apartment we purchased in Medellin last year complete, it’s time for a next project.
It’s perfect timing, therefore, that, after months…no…in fact, now, after years of reviews, inspections, filings, and reports, we’ve finally, at long, long last, received all the required permissions to be able to launch initial construction work at Los Islotes.
Developing land in the developing world, you have a choice to make. You can dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, by arranging for every survey, filing for every approval, and waiting for every permit to be issued…or not. You can stay the course, long and frustrating as it may prove to be…or you can take shortcuts. And, when all else fails, the clock is ticking, and the approvals are not forthcoming, you can cajole and persuade…or you can offer a little something on the side.
This is maybe the biggest decision you face as a developer in this part of the world. Will you pay the bribes that you’ll be tempted to pay and that will, sometimes, be demanded outright…or will you resist?
We understood this choice going into Los Islotes. And we made the decision, consciously, that we wouldn’t pay. Not because we find paying bribes morally or ethically appalling so much as because we knew that, if we paid, we’d be marked as payers. Pay once and you pay forever.
Plus, how do you know who to pay…or how much? How do you know the guy who asks for money on the side to make sure your application gets to the top of the review pile is actually in a position to make that happen? Or that the guy you pay to ensure that your plans are approved is even part of the approvals process? You can’t know, not really. So you take a chance. Then what do you do when the hoped-for outcome doesn’t follow? What recourse do you have? Pay off another guy?
Plus, in a country like Panama, government agencies turn over entirely from one administration to the next. What happens when the guy you paid to approve your not-quite-up-to-standards plans is replaced by the next president and the new guy the next president puts in place decides to take a look at said plans himself? Do you pay him off, too?
We know too many would-be developers who’ve gotten into too much trouble trying to grease the wheels in this part of the world. Seemed easier and certainly safer to us to do it the hard way–that is, to push, to reason, to plead, to remind, to follow up, and to wait. We’ve re-surveyed, re-filed, reviewed, and reconsidered. But we’ve never paid.
For more than three years. Through ministry resignations, firings, reorganizations. Through lost plans, misfiled proposals, misinterpreted report findings. Through manaña and manaña and manaña…
Finally, as of this month, July 2012, the Azuero coastal development project that Lief and I conceived some four years ago, is almost fully permitted. I still must say “almost,” because a few small t’s still must be crossed. But, as of this writing, we have permits enough in hand to break ground. We can build a road.
We can build a road or build a house and no inspector, no government official, nobody nowhere can come along and tell us to stop or fine us for not following the rules. This is the big-deal good news about having waited things out as long as we have.
The past couple of years, as, first, ANAM, the government agency tasked with protecting this country’s “environment,” and, then, MIVI, the Ministry of Housing, lost their chief ministers, triggering six-month-long backlogs in approvals for all projects in the pipeline, respectively, have been so maddeningly frustrating that we’ve had to put the entire project out of mind. We’ve pushed ahead quietly, behind the scenes, but we’ve focused on other things. Now, permits in hand, it’s time to make a little noise about what’s now on the books for this dramatically beautiful west coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula.
A new sales director has been hired, a new website has been commissioned, and, Friday, Lief and I reviewed the plan and timeline for infrastructure work for the coming 12 months.
Los Islotes is a family project. Kaitlin, our daughter, has taken the lead on developing the new website. Jackson, our son, says he wants to start a Los Islotes newsletter. And, eventually, Lief and I plan to build a home on these oceanfront hills that will be part of our long-term retirement plan.
We need to work up to that, though. First, we’ll build a smaller house, while we get the supply lines in place and the water and electricity installed. This house will be a good place to stay, with friends and visitors, when we’re onsite, working, finally, in earnest, to push toward realizing the vision of the community we’ve long planned to create on Panama’s Pacific sunset coast.