Washington, DC—In a new report published today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) details a series of steps the Mexican government should take to properly implement the sweeping anti-corruption reforms Mexico passed in 2015 and 2016. The reforms created the National Anti-Corruption System, a mechanism designed to provide much-needed coordination between the myriad anti-corruption institutions at all levels of government that had previously been operating without clear methods of collaboration. While President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made combating corruption a priority for his administration, his government has yet to focus on implementing the reforms as a key strategy in that effort. According to WOLA’s report, The Future of Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System: The Anti-Corruption Fight Under López Obrador, in order for the new government to make good on its promise to get tough on corruption, it must fully implement the System and support other efforts to institutionalize anti-corruption efforts.
“Mexico’s weak institutions have been a breeding ground for corruption at all levels of government, which is why the creation of the National Anti-Corruption System was a positive step forward,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “If the Mexican government doesn’t fully implement the anti-corruption reforms passed in 2015 and 2016, we can expect more of the status quo.”
As the new WOLA report explains, the National Anti-Corruption System was supposed to be operational by July 2017. However, during then-President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, officials thwarted its implementation in several areas, including by stalling the appointment of several key actors in the System and blocking important anti-corruption probes from moving forward.
Since López Obrador took office, some of these issues have been effectively addressed. For instance, a special prosecutor for handling corruption cases was finally appointed in March, and several key corruption investigations appear to be moving forward. This includes the scandal involving the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying at least USD$10 million in bribes to Mexican officials to secure public contracts during the Peña Nieto administration. However, in spite of the progress made, other aspects of implementation remain at a standstill or have been delayed. This includes the appointment of 18 new anti-corruption magistrates to the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice, the System’s sanctioning arm. The absence of these magistrates, who are supposed to have exclusive jurisdiction over grave administrative offenses such as embezzlement and money laundering, is delaying the sanction of dozens of serious corruption crimes.
“The Mexican government’s progress in investigating past corruption cases is a hopeful sign of headway, but a critical testament of the political autonomy of the National Anti-Corruption System will be whether future corruption cases involving officials in López Obrador’s administration or political party are properly investigated and sanctioned,” said Gina Hinojosa, WOLA Program Associate for Mexico. “If López Obrador is serious about getting tough on corruption like he has promised, he must commit to addressing the remaining gaps in the National Anti-Corruption System, which includes filling the 18 anti-corruption magistrate seats with qualified candidates.”