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Workers on the site of the cancelled airport Workers on the site of the cancelled airport. There was no comprehensive vision for the project, according to the federal auditor.

Auditor questions spending of 68 billion pesos in 2017

4 billion pesos is connected to three major infrastructure projects

The Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) has questioned the use of more than 68 billion pesos in a new package of audits relating to government spending in 2017.

The ASF says that government departments and agencies must clarify how they spent 68.13 billion pesos (US $3.5 billion at today’s exchange rate) of public money during 2017, the last full year of Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year presidency.

A total of 9,514 observations were made to the audited entities as part of the third and final assessment of 2017 public accounts.

Presenting the audit package to lawmakers, ASF chief David Colmenares said that 1,675 individual audits were carried out.

Of that number, “1,517 relate to reviews of financial compliance, 150 relate to performance audits and eight [were] public policy evaluations,” Colmenares said.

He said that no criminal complaints have yet been filed in relation to the use of public money in 2017 but reminded lawmakers that during his administration of the ASF, a total of 54 complaints have been made to authorities following audits carried out in previous years.

Just over 4 billion pesos (US $207.1 million) flagged by the ASF relates to three infrastructure projects initiated by the past federal government: the new Mexico City International Airport (NAICM), the Mexico City-Toluca passenger train and the Cuernavaca Paso Express highway.

The NAICM was subjected to three audits which detected irregularities in the project’s planning and execution to the tune of just over 3.2 billion pesos.

“The assessment carried out by the ASF showed that there was not a comprehensive vision of the project, which resulted in deficiencies and limitations in the coordination between [federal] departments and entities and between the three levels of government involved,” the report said.

To date, only 26.4 million pesos – less than 1% of the total irregularities detected – has been recovered, the ASF said.

Audits of the airport also found that the government took on total debt of more than US $6 billion for its construction.

The partially-completed project was cancelled by the new federal government following a public consultation last October that found 70% support for an alternative plan to convert the Santa Lucía air force base in México state for commercial aviation and to upgrade the airports in Mexico City and Toluca.

With regard to the unfinished intercity rail project, the ASF detected irregularities totaling 745.5 million pesos related to spending on planning, construction and the obtaining of rights of way. Only 25.4 million pesos has been recovered.

The project has been plagued by a range of construction and legal problems and its cost has blown out by more than US $1 billion, according to a 2018 study.

The audit of the Paso Express – on which a sinkhole opened in July 2017, trapping a car and killing both occupants – detected negligence in the management of the project and determined that the highway was poorly built. Irregularities totaling 76.5 million pesos were detected.

The ASF is also seeking clarification about the use of more than 1.2 billion pesos that was allocated by federal authorities in 2017 to the México state government to develop a new income policy.

The auditor considers the money to be recoverable because it was unable to establish how it was used.

The 68.1-billion-peso figure that the ASF has flagged for possible recovery is 21.7% less than the amount identified in the audit of the 2016 public accounts.

Between 2001 and 2017, the ASF said, it recovered 103 billion pesos (US $5.3 billion) whose use was questioned in its annual public accounts audits.

Source: El Economista (sp), El Financiero (sp) 

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