National Public Service Authority (Panama)

Autoridad Nacional de los Servicios Públicos

Country

Location

Regulated area

Panama

Panama City

Infrastructure & transport

Useful pages on the regulator website

Key individuals

  • Armando Fuentes Rodríguez: Administrator, ASEP
  • Karen Soyneth Gutiérrez Lee: Executive Director, ASEP
  • Vanessa Itzel Serrano De León: National Director for Consumer Support

Regulatory oversight

The National Public Service Authority (Autoridad Nacional de los Servicios Publicos (ASEP)) is the national regulator supervising all entities, public or private, providing public services in the Republic of Panama.

ASEP was created in February 2006 by means of Decree-Law 10, whereby Law 26 of 1996 (which created ASEP’s predecessor, Ente Regulador de los Servicios Publicos), was amended.

The sectors regulated by ASEP are electric, water supply and sanitation, telecommunications, radio and television, and transmission and distribution of natural gas.

ASEP is led by an administrator appointed by the Executive Branch for seven years; the appointment must be ratified by the Legislative Branch. As mandated by law, ASEP must have as a minimum a national directorate for the electric, water supply and sanitation sector, a national directorate for the telecommunications sector, and a national directorate for consumer support.

The Administration Council is an oversight committee and is made up of two cabinet members, three persons appointed by the President of the Republic and by ASEP’s executive director.

Prior to 1997, most regulated sectors, except for television and radio, were in control of the Panamanian state. The telecommunications sector was the first to be privatised in 1997 with a partial sale of all state telecommunications assets to Cable and Wireless. The groundwork for the privatisation of the electric sector was also laid in 1997 by the approval of Law 6 of 1997. The water supply and sanitation services are still provided by the state.

The telecommunications sector and the electric sector have benefited from significant important investments and, therefore, exponential growth since 1997 to date. From one national provider in 1997, the sector has grown to 224 authorised, active, commercial telecommunications providers offering various services to the public.

The electric sector started as one state-owned entity generating, transmitting and distributing electricity to the republic. There are now three distribution companies, one state-owned transmission company and 89 private generators with active generation licences. Within the sector, ASEP regulates the national transmission company ETESA, the national distribution companies, EDEMET, EDECHI and ENSA. ASEP also issues licences and concessions for the generation of electricity, which it also regulates.

Reporting and disclosure obligations

Companies under ASEP’s regulation are obliged to provide technical, commercial, financial and economic information to ASEP as requested. ASEP is obliged to keep this information confidential. Any public officer that releases confidential information may be fired and will also be subject to civil and criminal penalties. Regulated companies must prepare a non-confidential summary of the confidential information provided, which will be released periodically to the public. The requirements to apply for the various licences and concessions are adjusted regularly to conform to current national requirements. As an example, ASEP has started requesting the posting of performance bonds to guarantee the construction of electricity generation facilities to prevent speculation that could affect the market and, therefore, the consumers.

Monetary sanctions and recent behaviour

ASEP, acting as regulator, is authorised to impose sanctions on different regulated entities following pre-established procedures contained in sector-specific resolutions issued by ASEP. The sanction process starts after complaints are received from the public or ex officio. The potential sanctions are detailed in sector-specific laws.

Non-monetary sanctioning powers and behaviour

Sanctions, whether monetary or non-monetary, vary depending on the regulated sector, whether electric, water supply and sanitation, telecommunications, radio and television, or transmission and distribution of natural gas.

For instance, in both the electric and telecommunications sectors, concessions and licences may be suspended or revoked.

Recent and upcoming developments

See the Challenges section.

Challenges

In July 2019, a new administrator was appointed for the period 2019‒2024. ASEP will face interesting challenges during the coming years with the implementation of new communication technologies; having to balance the expected growth of the country with the expansion of the national electric generation park and transmission facilities; and the promotion and supervision of the expansion of the national drinking water supply system and sanitation services. All these challenges need to be met while protecting consumers’ interests, ensuring the quality of services, fair prices and sufficient profits for all regulated entities.

Interacting with the regulator

Under Panamanian law, interactions with public entities are governed by Law 38 of 2000 of General Administrative Procedure. This Law sets out the procedures that must be followed within public entities.

ASEP has also set out different procedures by means of specific regulation, such as consumer complaints, permits, concessions or licences, and many more, which shall vary depending on the applicable regulated sector.

For example, Resolution No. JD-109 dated 20 October 1997, as amended, established the procedure for telecommunications consumer complaints, while Resolution No. JD-1297 dated 29 March 1999, established the procedure for water supply and sanitation consumer complaints and Resolution No. JD-1298 dated 29 March 1999, establishes the procedure for complaints from electricity consumers.

These specific procedures must be followed pursuant to the regulation that sets them out and the General Administrative Procedure Law.

Notes for foreign investors

Not applicable.

Other regulators it works closely with

Depending on the regulated sector, ASEP has to work with other public entities that are not necessarily regulators, such as the National Energy Office (Secretaría Nacional de Energía) when dealing with certain matters relating to the electric sector.

Further, there are certain consumer-specific matters that are overseen by the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Defence Authority (Autoridad de Protección al Consumidor y Defensa de la Competencia (ACODECO)), rather than ASEP, such as discounts established by law for retirees and disabled people. However, ACODECO may turn to ASEP for relevant or necessary information, and vice versa.

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