Mexico’s New National Anti-Corruption System Outlook

By August 2017Mexico

By constitutional mandate, on 19 July Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System (SNA) began operations. Citizens and NGOs, aided by international conventions, had overcome many obstacles in finally bringing about the new institution.

Despite the Mexican Constitution’s guarantee of the right to information, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governments of the 20th century did not enact any effective policies on transparency and accountability. Some improvements came under the National Action Party (PAN) administrations of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, such as the creation of the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), which later became the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI). They also created new regulations to strengthen all federal agencies’ internal affairs boards and ensure the bureaucracy’s professionalism.

Despite all of this, Mexico ranks 103rd out of 177 nations listed in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and last among the 20 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Notably, previous institutional transformations in Mexico have not resulted in less corruption. Therefore, although the SNA nominally hits all the right notes (i.e., guaranteeing transparency and accountability as well as prosecuting corruption) it has yet to generate confidence and credibility.

The SNA is made up of the following legal entities, each with different powers:

  • The INAI, an autonomous body with the authority to obtain information on government performance at citizens’ request;
  • The Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF), a part of the legislative branch that verifies the proper use of public resources;
  • The Civil Service Secretariat (SFP), an executive branch ministry that monitors the federal government’s procurement and contracting procedures;
  • The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Combating Corruption, a part the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) that will be responsible for investigating corruption and prosecuting suspects;
  • The Federal Administrative Court (TFJA), which has the power to penalize acts of corruption;
  • The newly created Citizen Participation Committee (CPC), which includes representatives of NGOs and academics;
  • The Coordinating Committee (CC), which will link all of the above entities.

The SNA is hyped as the essential body to tackle corruption in Mexico, but whether it functions effectively is far from certain. The SNA has been plagued by difficulties and delays since its conception in 2012, when then presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto promised to create a system against corruption. In fact, it was not until 2015 that the SNA’s legal framework was finally created. Furthermore, that was done mostly as an attempt to restore the president’s image, after his wife was revealed to have acquired a $7mn home as a result of providing political favors to a construction company.

To approve the 2017 federal budget, congressional deputies had to make many tough adjustments to guarantee 1.5bn pesos (about $84mn) for the SNA. Apart from that, even more difficulties have arisen. Businessman Claudio X. Gonzalez Guajardo is fighting hard to become the next anti-corruption prosecutor, although the Pena Nieto administration strongly dislikes him. Furthermore, the process of nominating judges to the TFJA has not yet been completed, and state legislatures have yet to enact all legal adjustments pursuant to the SNA. In addition, the designation of citizens to the CPC was marked by many irregularities.

Amid this disorder, more corruption scandals have appeared, such as the recent revelation that the Mexican government bought and used tools to spy on journalists and activists. As a result, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is considering the possibility of expelling Mexico, and Transparencia Mexicana has reported that the country’s candidacy for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is also in jeopardy. Under these conditions, we are skeptical that the SNA will fulfill its mission in the short term.