Well, I can´t say it is a new concept. Panama is probably at least 20 years late on this one, but that doubles the reason to celebrate. Finally (and I suspect some companies where already doing it) the government decided to create a law to be able to do commerce online (meaning doing transactions and taking credit cards online). As someone once said: “a small step for a man, a big step for mankind”…
Curiously enough, some years ago a few government visionaries started the process of transforming all physical files in their institutions into digital files. Suddenly, costs where less and efficiency was up to the roof for “government” standards. Of course, you would say… hey, I could have told them that. But you know, it is the government. Finally they are catching up. So they got all excited about it, and the next thing you know there are all sorts of things like websites for each institution with most or at least some of the forms you need to process stuff, and you can even declare your rent online (www.dgi.gob.pa). They claim you can even start to process your visa online, although if you are reading this… please, get a good lawyer (www.pasaporteordinario.gob.pa ).
At www.panamaemprende.gob.pa you can open a company. If you have requested a work permit you are supposed to be able to follow up your status at www.mitradel.gob.pa, and believe it or not you can even check on what the government is buying at www.panamacompra.gob.pa. This is a huge improvement for the government, especially with the many complaints on lack of transparency and corruption. But what about the private sector?
Panama bursts with websites. All of them offering information, but they don´t tend to be able to do transactions in them. Some companies found ways to “loop” by being able to take your request and charge you then by phone. You are able to order all your groceries at the online Riba Smith supermarket, but you can´t pay online. The bookstore Exedra Books will take your order and deliver to wherever you are, but they can´t charge you through their website. Until now.
Although notice banks have been using online commerce for a long time now. Everyone except Banco Nacional which still has a shamefull archaic method. You can´t even check your account online. You have to physically go to one of their agencies, do a huge line and finally talk to an agent which will look at you really nasty if your bank account was open in Chiriqui but you are requesting your status printed at the Panama agency. I´ve personally been through this. They actually require you to request it in writting. Really… as ridiculous as this sounds to you, this is how things used to work before internet. Shame they haven´t realized that was at least 30 years ago.
But one of the main achievements of the law is to recognize and have a protocol for e signatures. Airlines like Copa has been doing business online for a long time now, although I suspect they use a US website and system since they were connected to Continental Airlines until a while ago.
One of the big private companies that has jumped in first is El Rey, one of Panama´s main supermarket chains. They are implementing a system for all their providers, which is a complicated net of really huge companies and Aunt Maria home businesses. The challenge is to get everyone on the same page so the communication can actually get done. Because El Rey has posts all throughout the country, providing equipment and trainning to every provider will be a crazy process, but will force a big part of the country to jump into the new technology fast. And once you are there, you become an addict, as we all know.
The one handicap of all this is that most websites are still in spanish, except the tourism and real estate websites. So much to get done!
If you would like to know more about the E commerce law, you can download it here: http://www.asamblea.gob.pa/APPS/LEGISPAN/PDF_NORMAS/2000/2004/2004_537_1641.PDF
and about e signatures: