Corruption has slightly worsened in Mexico over the past year despite President López Obrador’s promise to end the scourge, a new study found.
Mexico ranks eighth of 15 Latin American countries on the Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index, which assessed countries capacity to detect, punish and prevent corruption amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Mexico’s overall score on the 2020 index is 4.55 out of 10, a decline of 0.1 compared to last year.
Developed by the the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and the global risk and strategic consulting firm Control Risks, the index looks at 14 key variables, including the independence of judicial institutions, the strength of investigative journalism and the level of resources available for combating white-collar crime
The CCC Index’s goal, the organizations said, “is not to shame or single out countries, but to foster a policy-driven discussion, helping governments, civil society and the private sector identify – through data and a robust methodology – areas of success and deficiencies to be addressed.”
In three sub-categories – legal capacity; democracy and political institutions; and civil society, media and the private sector – Mexico achieved scores of 4.15, 4.55 and 6.24, respectively.
In the first sub-category, Mexico fared best in “access to public information and overall government transparency” and worst in “independence and resources for the chief prosecutor’s office and investigators.”
In the second sub-category, Mexico’s best result was in “overall quality of democracy” and its worst was in “lawmaking and ruling processes.”
In the third sub-category, Mexico’s highest score was in “civil society mobilization against corruption” and its lowest was in “digital communications and social media.”
The index report (opens as a PDF) noted that President López Obrador came to power at the end of 2018 with a promise to end corruption. It said that the goal has remained at the top of the federal government’s agenda yet the 2020 index “shows that, in practice, not much has changed for Mexico.”
“In fact, the country has stagnated and maintains a poor ability to detect, punish and prevent corruption. Mexico’s overall score, as well as the scores for all three sub-categories, remained notably similar to last year’s,” the report said.
The report’s authors – Roberto Simon, senior director of policy at AS/COA, and Geert Aalbers, partner at Control Risks – said there are several reasons behind Mexico’s stagnation “but one of the most important is the lack of progress in long-term institutional reforms.”
AMLO, as the president is best known, “has mostly cast his anti-corruption campaign around his personal ability to eradicate the problem,” the report said.
“Meanwhile, the president has practically ignored the National Anti-corruption System, increased the use of discretionary spending on public contracts, and disregarded controls to improve governance, among other worrisome trends.”
The report noted that the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has expanded its activities and consequently uncovered alleged cases of corruption involving members of opposition parties, the Supreme Court and others.
“However, observers have raised questions about the extent of AMLO’s control over the UIF. Accordingly, Mexico’s score for the independence and efficiency of anti-corruption agencies went down,” the report said.
It said that in some of the variables in the “legal capacity” sub-category, such as “the independence and efficiency of the judicial system,” Mexico ranks significantly below countries like Brazil, Colombia or Peru, and closer to others like Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Although organizations such as Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity are working to expose corruption – it recently uncovered several problems with the federal government’s tree-planting employment program – the civil society campaign against corruption has lost some of its steam over the past two years, the report said.
“This is likely due to two main factors: AMLO’s success in appropriating the anti-corruption cause and his rhetorical attacks against NGOs and other independent groups.”
Under the sub-heading “Critical Issues to Monitor,” the report said that the federal government has removed controls and increased discretion for government contracts, while pushing forward major infrastructure projects (the Maya Train and the Santa Lucía airport are two examples) and increasing healthcare spending due to Covid-19.
“This combination will further increase corruption risks,” the report said.
Uruguay took top spot on the CCC Index followed by Chile and Costa Rica, while the worst rated countries were Venezuela, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.
Mexico was sandwiched between Colombia and Ecuador, which achieved overall scores of 5.18 and 4.19, respectively.
The publication of the index comes just two weeks after the release of a study by the federal statistics agency Inegi that found that the federal government’s anti-corruption agenda has succeeded in reducing people’s perceptions of the scourge but has not actually curtailed it.
Mexico News Daily