Implementation of Mexico Anti-Graft Reform Still Elusive

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A new report claims that sweeping legal reforms approved in 2016 could be the answer to Mexico’s deep-seated corruption, but the country’s poor record when it comes to implementing its laws make the likely success of these reforms questionable at best.

The report, published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), argues that the implementation of Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System should be a top priority for the country’s next president, who will be elected on July 1.

Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System, which includes a Senate-appointed citizen oversight body, was created to serve as a coordinating entity between institutions responsible for preventing, investigating and sanctioning government corruption.

According to WOLA, the system represents a historic opportunity to combat crime, violence and human rights abuses, as well as to restore trust in public institutions and address the economic impact of corruption.  

However, two years after Congress approved the landmark reforms, essential components of the system have yet to be implemented and key positions have yet to be filled.

The Senate has failed to appoint a prosecutor to head the newly created Special Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Corruption. Furthermore, the government has “blocked the [citizen oversight commission] from being effective” by withholding important information about ongoing investigations, Maureen Meyer, co-author of the report and director for Mexico and Migrants Rights at WOLA, told InSight Crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico’s National Anti-Corruption System is at risk of suffering the same fate as previous promising reforms that failed to live up to their potential due to poor implementation.

In order for the system to be effectively implemented, it needs buy-in from politicians both at the federal and state level, a challenging ask in a country where public officials are often linked to corruption cases.

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More than 20 governors and ex-governors have been implicated in corruption cases in the past decade alone. Javier Duarte, ex-governor of the state of Veracruz, currently faces dozens of charges related to organized crime, corruption and embezzlement. And the former governor of Tamaulipas was extradited to the United States last year for crimes including criminal collusion.

The National Anti-Corruption System also faces other significant challenges, including problems within Mexico’s judicial system, which has been weakened over the years by a lack of resources and corruption.

“Mexico has been slowly working to increase its capacity to investigate and prosecute crimes, but there’s a lot more that still needs to be done,” Meyer told InSight Crime. “I think that capacity will be built if you have the political will to invest in your special prosecutor’s offices or Attorney General’s Office … and actually give them the resources that they need.”

Mexico’s legacy when it comes to implementing promising reforms, however, does not bode well for the future of the National Anti-Corruption System.

In 2008, Congress approved comprehensive judicial reforms to overhaul Mexico’s long-criticized trial system and replace it with an adversarial, open-trial system by 2016. Implementation, however, has been impeded by a number of operational challenges including funding shortfalls, and the reforms have done little to address the pervasive political corruption in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Judicial Reform

Meanwhile, implementation of a 2014 constitutional reform to replace the notoriously distrusted Attorney General’s Office with an independent National Prosecutor’s Office is still stalled in Congress.

This will particularly affect the fight against corruption since the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Corruption is meant to form part of the new National Prosecutor’s Office.

According to Meyer, it is unlikely that the Senate will move to appoint a special corruption prosecutor before the transition to an independent prosecutor’s office is complete.  

While the creation of the National Anti-Corruption System represents an opportunity for the government to combat endemic corruption and weaken the political influence of organized crime groups, it is unlikely to live up to its potential unless there is a concerted effort to strengthen the capacity of Mexico’s judicial system as a whole.

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