Washington, D.C.—In a new report published today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) explains why fully implementing the landmark anti-corruption reforms that Mexico approved in 2016 should be a major priority for whoever wins the country’s presidency on July 1. Last year was Mexico’s most violent year on record, and seemingly endless corruption scandals have weakened public confidence in the Mexican government’s commitment to combating crime and violence and upholding the rule of law. Rooting out corruption has been a central theme during the lead-up to the July 1 elections, when Mexicans head to the polls to elect a new president, a new federal congress, nine governors, and over 2,800 representatives for other political positions across the country.
“The 2016 reforms represented a major step forward in terms of increasing accountability for corrupt public officials, but more needs to be done,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “Mexico’s next administration must summon the political will necessary to ensure these anti-corruption reforms are successful, or else problems like widespread violence, human rights abuses, and citizen distrust in public institutions will only intensify.”
The report, titled “Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System: A Historic Opportunity in the Fight against Corruption,” examines how corruption threatens the integrity of Mexico’s electoral processes, the role of corrupt officials in facilitating and perpetrating violence and human rights abuses, and the effects of graft, embezzlement, and corrupt business practices on economic growth and inequality. According to the report, the sweeping anti-corruption reform package that President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law in July 2016 can play a key role in addressing these important issues.
The reforms created the National Anti-Corruption System, an entity charged with coordinating anti-corruption efforts at the federal and state level. However, there has been little political will to give the system the resources and independence it needs to be fully effective. Mexico’s Senate has yet to appoint several key actors in the system, and while the reforms required states to implement their own anti-corruption systems by July 2017, most states have not yet done so. Additionally, a committee made up of civil society leaders, known as the Citizen Participation Committee (Comité de Participación Ciudadana, CPC), is supposed to play a major role in overseeing and implementing the new anti-corruption system, but committee members say that the government has consistently undermined their efforts to do so.
The National Anti-Corruption System’s effectiveness has also been hobbled by the slow implementation of the other reforms approved in 2016. These reforms laid the foundation for a tougher and more comprehensive approach to combating corruption in Mexico by demanding greater government transparency, expanding auditing powers, and reducing political influence over investigations into corruption cases by creating an autonomous Special Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Corruption (Fiscalía Especializada en Combate a la Corrupción), although the head of this office has not yet been appointed.
“The Mexican government must move to fill the nearly two dozen positions necessary for the full implementation of the National Anti-Corruption System, including the special prosecutor charged with investigating and prosecuting corruption cases. Authorities must also ensure members of the Citizen Participation Committee are included in decisions that affect the system, and that they are kept informed on progress in corruption cases,” said Meyer. “The upcoming elections will be historic not just because they will be the largest in Mexico’s history, but because they could very well determine the future of the country’s anti-corruption efforts.”