The earthquake that shook Mexico City last month and caused damage to thousands of buildings across the city has also revealed major deficiencies in the record keeping of government authorities.
All of the city’s boroughs should have files containing architectural and structural plans, building licenses and approvals of all of the buildings that collapsed or were damaged within their jurisdiction. And the Mexico City government should also have copies of the boroughs’ files.
But an investigation by the newspaper Milenio found that in most cases authorities have no records at all, either because they were lost or never existed. In other cases they only have incomplete information.
As a result, each building is a mystery. It’s impossible to verify who built it, how it was built or when, what materials were used, whether it complied with city building codes and whether it had had been checked after any modifications.
Thirty-eight buildings collapsed completely in the powerful quake while 500 others and thousands of houses sustained severe structural across the metropolitan area.
The Mexico City Attorney General’s office has already started 163 investigations related to damaged buildings including cases where fraud, homicide and negligence are being considered.
But without documentary evidence of a building’s history or in a best-case scenario, incomplete information, the progress of an investigation is hindered and building a case against a negligent construction company becomes more difficult.
There is also significant evidence that borough authorities are actively obstructing the availability of information to the public.
Criminal complaints have been made against companies that erected buildings that collapsed in the Benito Juarez borough but Mayor Christian von Roehrich hasn’t publicly disclosed the information that the local authorities hold.
Authorities in most other boroughs where damage occurred have also failed to make information about collapsed buildings available with only Cuauhtémoc and Tlalpan providing administrative information via their websites. Databases of several city government agencies have also reportedly been out of action in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Consequently, quake victims, insurance companies, building specialists and journalists have been unable to access information about land use permissions, building extensions and renovations and other technical information about damaged buildings from the authorities who are responsible for them.
Instead, borough authorities have delegated information requests to the Secretariat of Urban Development and Housing (Seduvi) but that department has suspended its services due to “serious” damage sustained by its information systems and its premises.
But Milenio confirmed that the building has not been cordoned off and staff are currently working there.
Milenio also found that trying to obtain information about Mexico City’s 38 collapsed buildings led to its requests being transferred from one city government agency to another but, in many cases, a response was still not forthcoming.
In 85 information requests it made, requests were forwarded to and/or returned from seven different agencies as well as offices of the city’s 16 boroughs, forming a complex, intertwined web.
The Secretariat of Civil Protection said that it forwarded information requests to the relevant boroughs or Seduvi either because it said it lacked the powers to release the information sought or it didn’t have it, while the Secretariat of Public Works gave a similar response to inquiries it received.
The Institute of Administrative Verification (Invea) said it was only verifying information relating to cases where formal complaints had been received while the city’s environmental agency said it would only check whether relevant permissions had been obtained by the builders of collapsed buildings “when it is viable” to do so.
Source: Milenio (sp)