Deputy of Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) Raúl Pineda claims that neither he nor his children sell products or services to the State through a company called Servicios Múltiples Rama.
Until 2019, the company beneficiaries were two of his children, and today one of its directors is listed as an employee of his in the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the one who identified himself as the new and sole owner of the company is not quite sure when he bought it from the Pineda family.
But since 2019, the company has successfully entered into business with the State directly in several cases: gardening in the National Assembly; kitchen supplies at the Ministry of the Presidency; garbage collection in the Municipality of San Miguelito, and now, in times of pandemic, water and masks for the IMA. Now, one of those Pineda children who left the company works for the Government.
Negotiated in times of the health crisis
The company Servicios Múltiples Rama sold bottled water to the Institute of Agricultural Marketing (IMA) at an outrageous price: 80 cents for the 350ml bottle, despite the fact that the institution normally pays only 15 cents per bottle, thanks to a framework agreement.
When the company was asked for the reason for such a huge price difference, the answer revolved around an alleged confusion.
The purchase was made in the midst of the current pandemic, under the urgent purchase modality, through the Panama Solidarity Program.
An IMA source said that Jorge González, administrative director of the institute made the request of 10,000 bottles (350 milliliters). And it didn't take long for an offer of Multiple Branch Services to be ready on the table, which, although its business areas are “gardening, remodeling, cleaning and equipment installation”, this sale reveals its opportunistic entry into the sale of water.
Servicios Múltiples Rama states in a letter that although it is true that it sent an offer to sell water bottles at 80 cents a bottle, but it was for a larger size bottles. Once the clarification had been made, the error was immediately rectified […] and a new quote was sent with the correct size bottle, as well as the new price ... ”.
But the IMA tells a completely different story. An official source indicated that the purchase request, signed by the director of the institution, Manuel Araúz, had specifications that were not met. "The transaction was made, but when the Purchasing Department received the merchandise from the supplier, [the water bottles] were smaller in quantity and price," he said.
These differences, however, were overlooked, as the merchandise was received and placed at the IMA offices.
If Servicios Múltiples Rama clarified everything in a new offer, how is it that the water bottles sent to IMA bottles did not match what was ordered?
A source reported, that the contract with the company will not be signed, as what was received was not what was requested. This would be a substantial saving, since they would no longer pay $8,000, but $1,500, if the 10,000 bottles were purchased at the usual price.
Another new line of business for Multiple Branch Services is that of medical supplies. The company obtained a direct contract - also from the IMA - of $27,000 for the sale of 30,000 masks. There is no doubt that the pandemic succeeded in reinventing the gardening company.
While the present activities of Servicios Múltiples Rama are interesting, so is their past. It was created as a family business in February 2014, and from May 2015 to June 2019 its secretary and president was a son of the current deputy of PRD, Raúl Pineda, named Abraham Rico Pineda. His brother, Fernando Enrique, was also secretary of the company until April 2019. Last year both sons were replaced by Omar Ortega.
The entrepreneur Abraham Rico Pineda then became an official at the Ministry of Agricultural Development (Mida), where he is the coordinator of Plans and Programs, with a salary of $4,000 a month.
The other who sought new horizons and left the company last July was his resident agent, Agustín Lara, who also migrated to the government as deputy director of the Public Registry, with $6,000 monthly salary, after failing as a candidate for deputy for San Miguelito in the last elections.
The one who remained faithful to the gardening company was Salvatore Messina, who simultaneously combines his duties as director of Servicios Múltiples Rama with those of administrative assistant in the National Assembly, with a salary of $2,000 a month.
And Messina is almost family, since the deputy Pineda confirmed that he is part of his team.
Pineda also told La Prensa that, although his subordinate is a director in the company – in which his children were beneficiaries – he does not receive benefits from his businesses. Pineda did not mention how he knows that, considering that he said that although his children created the company they are no longer linked to it.
And besides his children, Pineda must have had something in that company, because he himself said that “we sold the company to Omar Ortega, the company is not mine, I have nothing to do with it, I am not a partner, and no one from my family works in it ... ”, he stated. And that is why, he concluded, that "I do not sell water, gel or masks."
It was right at the National Assembly where Servicios Múltiples Rama expanded their business to gardening. The company was hired for $42,000 dollars to prune and remove weeds, apply herbicides, level lands and prepare plants for the gardens of the Palacio Justo Arosemena and the annex building. The contract was awarded last September.
In January of this year, the company also worked for another palace, Las Garzas, for which they received a$4,000 contract from the Ministry of the Presidency, to provide “supplies for the use in the kitchen in events that take place in the Presidential Palace ”.
And between February and October 2019, Servicios Múltiples Rama collected another $130,000 in the Municipality of San Miguelito, according to data from the Comptroller General of the Republic, for cleaning and picking up trash. Today, as already mentioned, the company took a quantum leap, going from gardening to selling bottled water and medical supplies. Maybe the Government has a certain scent that attracts Servicios Múltiples Rama to enter these businesses?
The new owner
Omar Ortega, the new and “only” owner of Multiple Branch Services, according to what he told La Prensa, oddly is not quite sure when he bought the company: “two or three years ago”, although in the Public Registry it appears that he entered the company in 2019. Ortega insisted that changes were made to the company's board of directors, but that it was only in July 2019 that they were reflected [in the official records]."
However, the two board meetings in which those changes were made did not take place two or three years ago, but last year, the first in April 2019.
"Apart from having bought the company from Deputy Pineda, I do not have any kind of friendship that is out of the ordinary," Ortega told La Prensa. He admitted to being a merchant without a license to sell or distribute medical supplies, but he sells them anyway. There was no one offering to sell water to the IMA, so he made the effort and got the contract.
Asked about the landscaping contract with the Assembly, he said that he was able to cut down the trees they asked for and placed decorative stones in the gardens. When asked where he had planted the 30 royal palm trees that the contract demanded, he only replied: "Well, we did what they asked us to do."
IMA calls for investigation
Jorge González, the administrative director of the IMA who asked to buy the water bottles, was dismissed. But he already had several questionable purchases. For example, he awarded a contract for $ 17,000 to another company - Suplidora Doble A, which operates in sheet metal work - to purchase alcohol gel. He also paid $12,000 to buy 2,000 masks, model NK95, at $6 per unit.
The purchase of the alcoholic gel was not endorsed by the Comptroller's Office, "because [again] it was charging for a product that did not match the specifications of the invoice," said a source.
The removal of González, according to the IMA, would have been sustained by the irregular purchase of masks. La Prensa tried to obtain González's version, but the management was unsuccessful, since his phone was disconnected when he left the institution.
The director of the IMA, Manuel Araúz, has requested the Comptroller's Office to carry out an audit on the purchase of the masks paid at three times their value, as well as other acquisitions and procedures carried out by González at the institution.
Source: La Prenza