Without transparency, the government’s quest to eliminate corruption will remain a pipe dream, warns the outgoing chief of the National Transparency Institute (INAI).
In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, Francisco Javier Acuña Llamas said President López Obrador, who has made combatting corruption the central aim of his administration, “must comply with transparency” rules to achieve his goal of a corruption-free society.
Acuña, who will step down as INAI chief on Thursday but remain an institute official for a further two years, said the president’s flagship initiatives are “strict republican austerity” and the fight against corruption.
But “without transparency and access to public information” bringing the two initiatives to fruition “could become an [unobtainable] utopia,” he said.
While López Obrador is committed to rooting out corruption, he is no fan of INAI, asserting even before he took office that it has “done nothing” and is part of a “golden bureaucracy” of underachieving yet high paid officials.
Acuña, who became INAI chief in 2017, told Milenio that being the focus of repeated attacks by the president – he took aim at the institute again on Monday – has been a difficult experience.
Indeed, he said the president’s comments have represented some of the most bitter moments of his term.
And López Obrador’s attacks have encouraged others to be critical of INAI, he said, adding: “He’s the president of the republic! There’s no stronger affront than when he hurls expressions of disapproval [at the institute] and says that we only cost [the government money] and we’re not useful. It’s terrible.”
“To withstand it you have to have a strong stomach and a lot of brains, … never respond in clumsy terms but [you have] to be firm,” he said.
Despite the attacks, Acuña said the INAI he is leaving is in good shape, describing it as “brave” institution that fulfills its duties.
It has on occasion ordered the government to release sensitive information but according to Acuña, INAI has not split from the López Obrador administration or offended it.
“On the contrary we assimilated and what [the institute] has shown is that it can do what it has to do,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether the government’s perception of INAI will change under the leadership of a new chief. For the time being, López Obrador is not showing any signs of letting up on it.
Speaking on Monday, the president said that INAI and other autonomous government bodies were created by past governments “to pretend that corruption was being combatted and that there was transparency.”
He claimed that INAI from its inception made a pact to not disclose tax reprieves granted during the 2000-2006 government of former president Vicente Fox.
Its “stellar moment,” López Obrador said sarcastically, “was when it resolved to keep secret all the Odebrecht [corruption scandal] information.”
(The Brazilian construction company has admitted to paying multi-million-dollar bribes to the previous government in exchange for lucrative contracts).
The president also railed against the high costs of funding INAI.
“How much does it cost to maintain this institute? … 1 billion pesos [US $50.5 million] a year,” López Obrador said, describing the funds allocated to it as “the people’s money.”
After accusing the officials of INAI and other autonomous institutions of living large on the public purse, the president described the organizations as floreros, or flower vases, insinuating that they are nothing more than an adornment to the real work of government.
López Obrador added that whoever is elected to succeed Acuña as INAI chief must be an honest woman or man.
Having a doctorate from a foreign university isn’t enough to get the job, he said, explaining that the successful candidate must also have “principles” and “ideals.”