Mexico Passes New Anti-Corruption Laws – But Who Will Watch the Watchers?
Last month, another anti-corruption law took effect in Mexico. The General Law of Administrative Responsibilities was put in place to stop the bribery of Mexican government officials and the bribery of foreign public officials.
It has also created a new and improved judicial and prosecutorial infrastructure for corruption investigations, making it much easier for citizens to expose corrupt officials.
“This is the first time ever that you don’t have to file a case or present a formal complaint in order to start an investigation into corruption,” said Eduardo Bohorquez, director of the citizen’s group Transparencia Mexicana.
But the new law isn’t only targeting shady government officials, investigators can now go after corrupt companies and businesses.
“This is the first time ever that you are able to sanction the companies. The legal structure is there,” said Bohorquez. “You can actually dissolve the company – any company operating in Mexico. That is a sanction as well.”
Just a year ago, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto introduced this new national anti-corruption system. Ironically, Peña Nieto, his wife, and finance minister were amidst a corruption scandal at the time.
The government has shown to be resistant to these anti-corruption efforts.
“Anti-corruption activists have been harassed and spied on with surveillance only sold to national governments, civic organizations have been targeted for investigation, and Congress has failed to name a new anti-corruption prosecutor or specialized judges,” writes The Guardian. “The delays and harassment have prompted uncomfortable questions over the government’s commitment to stopping graft. And the failure to implement the SNA as it was designed has led to accusations that Mexican politicians are more keen to cover up for each other than to crack down on kickbacks.”
This is because most Mexican politicians are inherently corrupt.
“Many politicians cannot imagine being politicians without using mechanisms associated with corruption,” said Juan E Pardinas, director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank. “It’s the very heart of the political system.”
This corruption is costly to Mexican citizens, especially to those in the lower class who spend about 14% of their income on “extra-official” fees.
According to an anonymous survey by Mexico’s census authority, corrupt transactions in Mexico cost businesses roughly $89.5 million in bribes in 2016.
“Released last month by Mexico’s census authority, 65 percent of the respondents said bribing public officials was necessary to speed up business permitting, while 30 percent said bribes were necessary to avoid fines or sanctions on their businesses,” writes CNS News. “The survey found 561 of every 10,000 businesses reported at least one act of corruption by a public official in 2016. The number was double for the largest businesses interviewed. This survey actually underestimated the amount of corruption, said Bohorquez, because start-ups and small- and medium-sized firms are the least likely to report it, fearing reprisals.”
But it looks like Mexico is making yet another push to address the corruption issue.
A special federal attorney-general is also supposed to be appointed to lead the charge against corruption, but a political battle has caused the Senate to fail at its three attempts to fill the role.
Anti-corruption activists are optimistic about the impact of the new law.
“It’s a slow process. I believe it has been advancing significantly. There’s no magic wand. Things don’t change overnight. I am convinced things will change,” said Lourdes Morales of the Mexican research institute CIDE.
Author’s note: Corruption is ingrained in Mexico’s political culture, so it’s not going to be easy to change the only way the government knows how to operate. In the best case scenario, we could see a very slow lessening of corruption over a generation or two. In the worst case scenario, the corruption could only increase, where the top political class could use this new law to get more bribes from lower ranks and businesses. The law will rely on how much integrity the top political class has. From what we have seen in the past, it doesn’t seem like much.