OP-ED: MEXICO: The Checklist Against Corruption

"Corruption annually costs Mexico between 2-10% percent of its GDP, reduces investment 5%, and eliminates 480,000 small & medium-sized businesses jobs." Photo (c) Como Vemos Damos 2017"Corruption annually costs Mexico between 2-10% percent of its GDP, reduces investment 5%, and eliminates 480,000 small & medium-sized businesses jobs." Photo (c) Como Vemos Damos 2017

In Mexico, there is a saying: “el que no tranza no avanza”. This sensational spelling is steeped in irony. For many Mexicans – it embodies the modus operandi of the political class.

Mexico has a fond tradition of laughing in the face of abject destiny. In the celebration of Dia de Muertos, the paraded Grim Reaper in the Zocalos across the country is caricatured as ‘La Flaca’. Mexicans choose not to see an imposing figure. Rather, they suggest she puts on a few pounds.

This admirable approach preaches a softer way to address the more pressing issues in life. However, most Mexicans will argue with regards to corruption, this one grew entirely out of proportion.

When the incumbent President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in 2012, he made a bold statement to the nation. “In the Mexico we want, there is no room for corruption, for cover-ups and least of all for impunity. It’s time to break with the past”.

Politicians are known for their grandeur in speech, yet this saviour of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional certainly bit off more than he could chew. Some would argue he never even had the appetite.

“Drain the Swamp”

Photo (c) 24 Horas 2016

La Ley de 3 de 3 battled through the Senate floor, despite contemptuous objections from rattled lawmakers. Photo (c) 24 Horas 2016

Five years on, riding a wave of contempt for his stagnant and plagued administration, Mexican citizens have drawn upon their own political powers – people power. In February 2016, La Ley de 3 de 3 was formed. Its goal – in its most simple form – is to rid Mexico of corrupt governors and ‘drain the swamp’, as the new leader to their north would proclaim.

2017 marks an important milestone in the Mexican political framework. La Ley de 3 de 3 battled through the Senate floor, despite contemptuous objections from rattled lawmakers.

And, just as Americans discover with Donald Trump and the swamp, Pena Nieto’s rally against corruption was just spectacle and pomp.

How It all Began:

Photo (c) New York Times 2016

“However, asking politicians to solve the problem is like asking a football player to referee his own match”. Photo (c) New York Times 2016

The demands are simple. Three declarations to improve transparency in the Mexican government.

1. Declaration of Assets: What does the Politician own?
2. Declaration of Interests: Who does the Politician negotiate contracts with?
3. Declaration of Fiscal records: It’s your guess which disclosure comes first. Peña Nieto or Trump.

The initiative’s design is punchy, it has both a Spanish and English version, and has every intention of drawing an outside perspective on the matter. Rinsing corruption from those who serve us and holding representatives to account is a unanimous policy, but La Ley de 3 de 3 goes one step further in its advertising.

“Qué tenemos en común los mexicanos? No solo nos une el himno nacional, la selección o el gusto por los tacos. Los mexicanos estamos hartos de la corrupción.”

“What do we have in common as Mexicans? We are not just unified by the national anthem, football or our love of tacos. We, the Mexican people, are tired of corruption”.

The analogies persist as the script reads: “However, asking politicians to solve the problem is like asking a football player to referee his own match”.

Herein lies the movement’s core issue, how does a country so renowned for notorious corruption, force its leaders to abandon a system that was almost founded on the basis of malpractice?

Nepotism

Photo (c) Poder Ciudadano 201

In 2015, Transparencia Mexicana, together with the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO), pounced on the mid-term election season to arouse interest in pushing Mexican politicians towards tangible, obligatory reform to kick out fraud. Photo (c) Transparency International 2016

“Nepotism is rife in Mexico”, Cesar Valdez of UNAM tells us. “Since as early as the 1940’s, the Mexican government promoted liaisons with businessmen to incentivise post-revolution growth.”

In 2015, Transparencia Mexicana, together with the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO), pounced on the mid-term election season to arouse interest in pushing Mexican politicians towards tangible, obligatory reform to kick out fraud.

Constitutional reform under Peña Nieto’s leadership increased citizen’s power to determine the government agenda. With 0.13% of the electorate’s support, petitions are brought forward for discussion in parliament. The target for this initiative was set at 120,000 votes.

634,143 signatures swept to the Senate floor

Photo (c) Debate MX 2017

Lopez Obrador famously protested the results of 2006 and 2012, claiming the illegitimacy of vote counts. Photo (c) Debate MX 2017

This resounding figure echoes decades of citizens’ collective anguish and devastation as politicians consistently spurned their sincerity in office for personal gain.

In a cruel twist, some pioneers of the anti-corruption movement have been caught out. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – known more affectionately as AMLO – is a seasoned presidential campaigner. Many speculate his imminent return for a third consecutive time to contest the PRI in 2018.

Lopez Obrador holds himself up as an antithesis to the incumbents. A former member of PRI, he abandoned the hegemony and now battles flying his own flag – MORENA (National Regeneration Movement). His humbling approach entices many to believe he has the will and vigour to transform a treacherous system. Lopez Obrador famously protested the results of 2006 and 2012, claiming the illegitimacy of vote counts – such is the consensus of foul play, many accept both the accusation and the outcome.

In November 2016, the Wall Street Journal found that Lopez Obrador failed to list his complete declaration of assets, omitting two apartments in the colonial Coyoacán neighbourhood, totalling $109,000 – over three times the value of his registered salary. These properties were also purchased during his tenure as mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005. In a world where image increasingly determines your political fortune – AMLO may only be revived by his longstanding affiliation with anti-establishment sentiment.

Reforms

Photo (c) Animal Politico 2015

“Each year corruption costs the country between two and ten percent of its GDP, reduces investment by five percent, and eliminates 480,000 jobs from small- and medium-sized businesses”. Photo (c) Animal Politico 2015

Whilst Enrique Peña Nieto may rue the reforms made in his first Presidential term, there were fears that the shackles would remain firm on the status quo. The implementation was delayed by Article 29, the specific clause which obligates officials to publish their declarations by law.

The movement distinguishes ten types of corruption – highlighting the many ways Mexico loses out to fraud. Duncan Wood in Foreign Affairs Magazine underlines the damage corruption does to Mexican potential growth: “Each year corruption costs the country between two and ten percent of its GDP, reduces investment by five percent, and eliminates 480,000 jobs from small- and medium-sized businesses”.

The new ruling will also provide protection for whistleblowers, and encourage people to come forward on potential cases. The battle now stands between whether or not Mexican citizens will retain agency over the disclosure of politician’s records. The passage of the 3 de 3 bill insists that citizens will decide the format in which politicians reveal their information. Politicians have lobbied for a lower cap on those who must disclose earnings. Lawmakers believe any public servant who earns less than 4.08 million pesos [around £176,000], must not be required to reveal their records.

Striving to Replenish Faith in Institutions

Photo (c) Urgente 24

A year has passed since the bill’s approval, yet the total number of politicians enlisted remains fractional. Photo (c) Urgente 24

Aside from the fact that this is an extraordinary amount of money to earn in both Mexico and around the world, this also leaves the door open for the tampering of financial records and the omission of certain earnings. Many public servants from all sides of Congress fear that the disclosures may compromise their safety. However, Rafael Garcia Aceves of Transparencia Mexicana insists that politicians have lost their right of protest: ” The appropriate implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System [a collective body between citizens and government] is the only remaining alternative that exists to replenish the faith in institutions and to transform the way we fight corruption”.

A year has passed since the bill’s approval, yet the total number of politicians enlisted remains fractional.

1 member of Enrique Peña Nieto’s cabinet, the Secretary for Agriculture, has disclosed his declarations. In both chambers of Parliament, only 25% of lawmakers have cooperated. [32 Senators of 127 members; 126 members of 501 Congressmen].

Whilst the decree of 3 de 3 will always be heralded as a civil victory, many Mexicans will be vigilant as their patience is tested by lawmakers. With paper-thin political trust, citizens must fear for the integrity of the bill as reforms continue. The Mexican malaise needs collective responsibility to address an entrenched issue. The courage of Mexicans cannot be understated. Whilst they are alienated, they refuse to be apathetic.

César Valdez is a lecturer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City.

Photo (c) UNAM 2017

Through an extensive online platform, citizens could identify their candidates and current politicians, and by using social media they too could demand that they release their own declaration. Around 400 politicians presented their disclosures, including 9 candidates for governor. Photo (c) UNAM 2017

Transparencia Mexicana, the co-pioneers of the movement, were willing to provide a short interview for this article, and I would like to thank them for their kind contributions. This discussion is with Rafael Garcia Aceves from January 2017.

Before answering the question, it is important to distinguish two interlinked moments with the birth of 3 de 3. After a series of corruption scandals in Mexico, Transparencia Mexicana [Mexican Transparency], and Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad [Mexican Institute of Competition], launched an initiative with the aim of inviting citizens to demand that both 2015 election candidates and representatives of Congress publish three declarations, designed by both organisations. The campaign required the declarations of assets, financial interests and a fiscal record of the past three years. Through an extensive online platform, citizens could identify their candidates and current politicians, and by using social media they too could demand that they release their own declaration. Around 400 politicians presented their disclosures, including 9 candidates for governor. The platform remained active after the 2015 election. At this point [January 2017], more than 600 members of government have presented their records using the system set up by Transparencia Mexicana and IMCO.

Due to the vast public participation in the 3 de 3 initiative, Transparencia Mexicana and IMCO, together with other organisations and third parties, decided to introduce a petition for the initiative to become legally binding. In concordance with legislation [introduced by the Pena Nieto administration], the electorate can present a petition for potential laws to Congress, providing the motion reaches 120,000. In February 2016, “Ley 3 de 3” was launched and three weeks later, and the petition registered 634,000 signatures. The law was approved in July 2016 and the disclosure of declarations will be made compulsory to all public servants in 2017.

How do you view the Ley 3 de 3 movement amongst the Mexican people and how does it differ from previous campaigns against corruption in the past?

Photo (c) Vanguardia 2016

Through concrete action, for example, demanding the disclosure of records from politicians. Photo (c) Vanguardia 2016

The 3 de 3 movement and the 3 de 3 law is inexplicable without the participation of the Mexican people. In addition to being the first citizens initiative debated and approved by Congress, it saw local people’s issues transition into law proposals. Through concrete action, for example, demanding the disclosure of records from politicians or that they sign the initiative, they achieved a fundamental change in the political practices and in the institutions responsible for combatting corruption in Mexico. This is its principal distinction, it is initiative rooted in the people.

How much of this impact is owed to the power of social networks?

Photo (c) Mexico Times 2016

Social networks (Twitter in particular), were a huge help, since in the 3 de 3 platform there were a list of candidates and public servants with their Twitter accounts embedded. Photo (c) Mexico Times 2016

The impact is owed to the innovation of the initiative, by giving the people a tool to transform their issues into direct action. Social networks (Twitter in particular), were a huge help, since in the 3 de 3 platform there were a list of candidates and public servants with their Twitter accounts embedded. With a single click you could send a tweet with the message “we the people want you to be a #TransparentPolitician, and that you publish your #3de3”. Through this, the politician became accountable to their voters.
Equally, during the campaign to collect signatures for the law, people were energised by using the hashtag #Isignedthe3de3law, downloading posters, taking photos and uploading them to social media, inviting others to also sign the petition. Social networks were a channel to maximising the outreach to all citizens.

With the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System by Enrique Peña Nieto, do you believe the 3 de 3 law will adopted by the government in its original form?

The Administrative Responsibilities Act, which includes the articles referring to publishing the three declarations by public servants, was approved in July 2016. Without a doubt, Article 29 of the Administrative Responsibilities Act was the most disputed, given it certifies the disclosure of records. After various discussions, it was confirmed that the Committee for Civil Participation will propose the format of the declarations. All the while, it remains to be seen if what has been approved will be implemented to expectancy and demands of the people.

In this link, you will find a timeline of how the National Anti-Corruption System developed, with a more detailed description, and links to other sites of interest:

Historia de una reforma: SNA, #3de3 y #Ley3de3

How do you view the opposition of politicians in Congress?

At this point, [January 2017], a total of 31 senators have presented their 3 de 3, (25% of members). Clearly, this initiative has ruffled feathers amongst public servants, including our own legislators, because naturally, there was resistance. The National Anti Corruption System was created under the principles of ‘open parliament’, as it was both the people and legislators together who designed the system. The collective action taken by communities gave their insight over reforms of certain laws to create the Anti Corruption System and will continue to insist on forms of ‘open parliament’. It is time to open Congress, despite the resistance that remains.

How does one assure that the 3 de 3 law is implemented faithfully?

Photo (c) RT Mexico 2015

The appropriate implementation of the National Anti Corruption System is the only remaining alternative that exists to replenish the faith in institutions and to transform the way we fight corruption. Photo (c) RT Mexico 2015

The main anti-corruption reforms were approved and published in 2016. The challenge is now ensuring that the bodies that make up the National Anti-Corruption System begin to function and comply with what the law stipulates, as the people ordered. Public dissatisfaction is rising and the political class are out of time. The appropriate implementation of the National Anti Corruption System is the only remaining alternative that exists to replenish the faith in institutions and to transform the way we fight corruption.

Are you optimistic about the future of the 3 de 3 law, and fighting corruption as a whole?

Photo (c) Mientras Tanto en Mexico 2015

“Mexican Spring”, [referring to the Arab Spring of 2011], to define this public awakening to fight corruption, with the number of signatures surpassing 600,000. Photo (c) Mientras Tanto en Mexico 2015

Yes, of course. The 3de3 initiative is an example of how when you give the people the tools to act against corruption, they are fully prepared to do so. The director of Transparencia Mexicana, Eduardo Bohórquez, coined the term “Mexican Spring”, [referring to the Arab Spring of 2011], to define this public awakening to fight corruption, with the number of signatures surpassing 600,000. It has been a historic moment, since never before has there been a proposal that has entered Congress with such noise and support. After so many corruption scandals, the resentment in Mexican society is a prime moment to change the country.

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References:

http://www.as-coa.org/articles/five-points-ley-3de3-and-battling-corruption-mexico
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35865948
http://blogs.cfr.org/oneil/2016/03/08/anti-corruption-efforts-in-mexico/
#Ley3de3 and the Power of Mexican Civil Society
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/2016-06-22/fighting-corruption-mexico

http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/nacion/politica/2017/06/13/avala-corte-articulos-impugnados-de-la-ley-3-de-3

About the Author

Yasin Mir
Spanish and Latin American Studies graduate from UCL. My main interests are focused on the political and economic spheres of Latin America. I studied one year at UNAM, Mexico City and I also spent part of my childhood living in Madrid.