The mood at the summit.

Author:Gutierrez, Santiago
Position:SPECIAL LATIN TRADE SUPPLEMENT - Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal

"President Martinelli never sleeps. He answers letters and emails regardless of whether it's one o'clock in the morning, or six in the morning," says one of the closest associates of 58-year old businessman Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, who has been president of Panama since July 1, 2009. And the president's work ethic may be one of his most salient characteristics.

But certainly not the only one. He doesn't put too much stock in formal protocol. In downtown venues he sits at the regular tables, in spite of the fact that the head table has been reserved for him. He appears without a tie at events that until recently wouldn't have been accessible without one, and has even been seen driving his own presidential vehicle. His style has a lot to do with his entrepreneurial vein. Martinelli cares more about the speedy execution of his decisions, than about the slowly grinding gears of formal bureaucracies. Another aspect we could highlight is that the president does not collect a salary, it is donated to charities with a social purpose. His attitude has already resulted in some changes in the government. One such change, perhaps the most notable, was to the staff. "Businessmen make up a majority of all new appointments to public office," says Mayra Arosemena, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

This new "corporate cabinet" has, in turn, resulted in a different public service culture. "Things have to get done," explains the government employee. That's why, for example, the procedure for opening a business in Panama, which a year ago used to take 15 days, now takes 45 minutes, and can be done over the internet from any location. There's also a new perception regarding the importance of setting goals and attaining them. The government set the goal of...

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