The Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) detected almost 67.5 billion pesos (US $3.3 billion) in government spending irregularities during President López Obrador’s first full year in office.
Detected as a result of the ASF’s audit of the 2019 public accounts and outlined by Chief Auditor David Colmenares in a virtual appearance before Congress, the irregularities include welfare payments to deceased beneficiaries, payments for services whose delivery was not supported by documentary evidence and duplicate payments.
The old age pension scheme, an apprenticeship scheme known as “Youths Building the Future” and four educational scholarship schemes were among the welfare programs whose spending was deemed irregular.
The auditor’s office found that 458 people and/or companies were unable to provide documentation that proved they had delivered the services the government paid them to deliver in 2019. The ASF also detected irregularities in contracts between service providers and the government.
More than 22.3 billion pesos in irregularities were detected in spending by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation, more than in any other government department.
Outlays of almost 4.6 billion pesos by the Agriculture Ministry were red-flagged as were nearly 3.4 billion pesos in expenditures by the Welfare Ministry.
More than 28.9 billion pesos in irregularities corresponded to spending by state and municipal governments with federal funds.
Colmenares said the ASF has launched more than 1,400 investigations to establish responsibility for the apparent misuse of the funds. Government departments that allegedly misused resources have been asked to provide explanations about their spending to the ASF.
Colmenares also said there was only “limited” cooperation from federal departments on transparency and auditing matters during López Obrador’s first year in office, even though the president has pledged to lead a transparent, corruption-free government.
“Auditing tasks have been affected” because “the audited entities have limited their communication with the ASF with regard to the exchange of documentation and information,” he told lawmakers.
The ASF also said it had determined that the cost of canceling the previous government’s airport project would be more than three times higher than an amount cited by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation in 2019.
López Obrador rejected the 332-billion- peso (US $16.1 billion) figure cited by the ASF, describing it as an “exaggeration,” and called on it to explain how it was reached. The Auditor’s Office subsequently said that it had made errors in its calculation and the real cancellation cost was lower.
The National Action Party (PAN), currently the main opposition party, accused López Obrador of pressuring and threatening the ASF after it published its airport cancellation cost estimate.
“Our total support for the [chief] auditor and all of the team at the Federal Auditor’s Office. … We remind the president that the ASF is autonomous, it doesn’t depend on the federal executive,” said PAN national president Marko Cortés.
He called on López Obrador to govern in lieu of threatening and trying to intimidate the autonomous body.
The auditor’s office identified nearly 51 billion pesos in questionable spending in its report on 2018, the last year of president Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year term.