Fighting the good fight, badly

Scandals have engulfed Mexico’s AMLO – how will this affect national efforts to combat corruption?

Mexico’s long fight against corruption continues, as it has for decades and without a great deal of success. Under the administration of president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”), the government has revamped its Attorney General’s Office and is proposing reforms of its national anti-corruption body. Despite renewed impetus to prosecute cases of individual and institutional impropriety, anti-corruption mechanisms remain weak.

A former senior official in Mexico’s Secretariat of the Civil Service said, “The fight against corruption was the signature campaign promise of the AMLO administration. The president made much of attacking organised criminal groups and their influence in politics. However, public institutions have not been able to overcome inertia in his third year of government and anti-corruption efforts have been slow and inefficient.”

“The fight against corruption was the signature campaign promise of the AMLO administration [but] anti-corruption efforts have been slow and inefficient.”

Former Senior Official, Secretariat of the Civil Service, Mexico

The administration itself has been embroiled in scandals which has sharpened the president’s criticism of domestic media. The most important of these is the so-called “grey house”, a plush residence where AMLO’s eldest son José Ramón López Beltrán lives. The media pointed out an alleged conflict of interest, because the house belonged to the employee of a company that received contracts from state oil company Pemex. Last week however, an external audit found no irregularities. The story had gripped Mexico for weeks.

In other developments, ambiguities remain. There has been no clear sanction against Emilio Lozoya, former CEO of Pemex, who accepted having received bribes from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant accused of corruption in several Latin American countries.

Industry too has been affected. Pharmaceutical companies, which AMLO singled out for monopolising contracts during the previous six-year term for peddling cosy political relationships and being tainted by corruption allegations, continue to be suppliers to the federal government. Such sentiment didn’t last long. Pharmaceuticals Maypo and Pisa have since the beginning of the year received government contracts for more than MXN 70 million each.

A senior manager at the national anti-corruption system said, “Last month, Mexico’s federal executive presented a proposal to reform the general law of the national anti-corruption system which includes replacing SESNA – Mexico’s national anti-corruption body – with a new entity with broader oversight. It remains to be seen how effective this body will be.”

“Last month, Mexico’s federal executive presented a proposal to reform the general law of the national anti-corruption system […]. It remains to be seen how effective this body will be.”

Senior manager, national anti-corruption system

Replacing SESNA could be short-sighted. It has had but a handful of years to find its teeth and begin to develop into an effective model for monitoring and evaluating corruption. Its resources have been increasingly diminished. Creating a new entity might make AMLO appear to be doing something innovative to tackle Mexico’s corruption challenge. In politics, perception matters; in reality, the proposal is little more than masking tape.

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