In the Battle for More Transparency in Mexico, Politicians Win This Round

Edificio del Senado de la República Mexicana en la Ciudad de México. Foto de Haakon S. Krohn used under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mexican Republic Senate Office in Mexico City. Wikimedia Commons photo by Haakon S. Krohn used under license CC BY-SA 3.0.

Mexico's Congress approved a package of new laws and legal reforms to combat corruption on June 17, 2016. What at first glance might seem like a step in the right direction instead generated a wealth of controversy thanks to lawmakers watering down a measure related to the transparency of politicians’ declared assets.

The legislative work was the result of an anti-corruption constitutional amendment passed in 2015. That amendment anticipated the creation of a National Anti-Corruption System by bringing existing organizations together such as the Federal Auditing Office and the Civil Service Secretary, among others, and forming the District Attorney Specialized in the Fight Against Corruption.

An unprecedented citizen's initiative followed, promoted on social media as #Ley3de3 (3of3 Law), formally requesting that legislators include in the National Anti-Corruption System an obligation for politicians to publicly divulge their taxes, assets, and conflicts of interest. Public officials already had to declare their assets; however, publishing this data was (and still is) optional. By forcing the publication of this data, the 3of3 Law hoped to increase transparency in politics.

But the 3of3 Law didn't come to pass. Independent news site Animal Político (Political Animal) reported the result of the senators’ work:

El Senado aprobó la Ley General del Sistema Anticorrupción y de Responsabilidades Administrativas, pero ignoró la demanda ciudadana para obligar a todos los funcionarios a publicar su declaración patrimonial, fiscal y de interés con el formato de la plataforma #3de3.

The Senate approved the General Law of the Anti-Corruption System and Administrative Responsibilities, but ignored the citizen’s demand to require all civil servants to publish their taxes, assets, and conflicts of interest with the #3of3 platform's format.

The approved law stipulates – ambiguously – that the declarations of assets that citizens wanted must exist, but restricts the publication of anything “that may affect the private life”, thus allowing a legal loophole to avoid making the information public.

In his column for the newspaper Exclésior, analyst Leo Zuckermann addressed specifically the legislators who approved the laws:

Son los políticos que no han entendido el hartazgo de la ciudadanía por la corrupción. Son los que optaron por defender sus intereses –escondiendo su riqueza, mucha de ella mal habida– a reformar el régimen político para fortalecer la democracia. Dice el refrán popular que “el que nada debe, nada teme”. Pues aquí estamos frente a mucho temor, pavor, terror a que la ciudadanía se entere de lo ricos que son nuestros políticos, muchos de los cuales sólo han trabajado en el sector público toda su vida profesional acumulando riqueza que no se sustenta con los sueldos que han recibido.

It’s the politicians who haven’t understood citizens are fed up with corruption. It’s they who chose to defend their interests — hiding their wealth, most of it wrongfully acquired — instead of reforming the political regime to strengthen democracy. As the popular saying goes, ‘He who has nothing to hide, has nothing to fear.’ Well, here we are facing a lot of fear, dread, and terror that the citizens find out just how rich our politicians are, many of whom have worked solely in the public sector for their entire professional lives, accumulating wealth that is not supported by the salaries they have received.

Legal expert Miguel Carbonell commented on Twitter:

To see certain legislators arguing about the anti-corruption laws is really embarrassing. They’re shameless.

As pointed out in a news report, the “reasoning” against the publication of such information came no less than from the very same senator who leads the Anti-Corruption Commission:

El argumento del presidente de la Comisión Anticorrupción, Pablo Escudero, del PVEM fue que hacer pública toda esta información pondría en riesgo a los funcionarios ante posibles grupos delincuenciales o secuestradores.

Pablo Escudero, president of the Anti-Corruption Commission from the PVEM, argued that making all of this information public would put the civil servants at risk of possible criminal or kidnapping groups.

The PVEM or Green Ecologist Party of Mexico is a bit of a political leech, maintaining their privileges and permission to exist as a party thanks to their alliance with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

In his comment below, Mexico's president couldn’t hide how thrilled he was with the development

Many thanks to the @MexicanSenate for the approval of the laws in the fight against corruption.

Although the news of the laws being approved left the 3of3 Law proposal in the dust, the reactions of disgruntled citizens were quick to follow.

Members of the Mexican business community went out into the streets to protest, as noted on the Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity Twitter account:

3of3 Law. Business owners take a stance against corruption in Angel

Twitter user Armando Regil shared the following image with his followers while questioning if the legislators actually represent the citizens:

Tweet: Are we a democracy? When 59 senators decide to ignore more than 630,000 citizens, are we really being represented here?

Image: Yesterday, in an extraordinary session, the Senate voted no to the 3of3Law. More than 630,000 citizens supported the law, 77 senators decided not to listen (59 voted against, 1 abstained, 17 didn't even vote)

Fher Aguilar also expressed his annoyance:

The #3of3Law has gone to shit, once again congressmen protect their own interests rather than the interests of the people. They’re a bunch of thieves and backstabbers!

The moans about the Senate’s decision, however, weren’t unanimous. Legal expert and writer Gerardo Laveaga pointed out that having approved the publication of income and asset information for civil servants would have interfered with the right to privacy:

I’m afraid that passing the #3of3Law would have violated the 6th article of the Constitution, which takes into account the Protection of Personal Information.

On the other hand, Heli Lopez extended the following invitation to those who are worried about the invasion of privacy as far as the National Anti-Corruption System is concerned:

Anti-Corruption Laws are a nightmare for politicians. 3of3 Law.

Be accountable to the people and if you want privacy, then go to the business sector.

Incidentally, corruption is a serious problem in Mexico. Proof is its ranking in 95th place out of 167 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index created by the NGO Transparency International. In other words, Mexico is positioned worse than Peru and tied with the Philippines and Armenia, and very far from the countries that occupy the first three places: Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, respectively.

For many, an important battle has been lost in the war against shadiness and corruption in Mexico. According to the debates online, the political class openly reinforced their own arrogance and disdain for transparency, standing by their disregard for society by turning their back on the people’s request. The work will continue, nonetheless, because the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System is still to be settled.

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