The Problem of Corruption - Diplomacy: a tool or a facade?

by Kenny Miller
By Miguel Pulido Jiménez

In Mexico, we face complex problems of corruption. Estimates of the cost of corrupt acts at the household level and for the national economy, as well as perception surveys, place our country at shamefully low levels in international comparative rankings. For example, the World Economic Forum estimates that the cost of corrupt acts in Mexico is around 9% of GDP, and Transparency Mexico estimated that the economic cost of corruption in Mexico was more than 32 billion pesos in 2010. However, it should be noted that corruption is not an intrinsic characteristic of our country or in any way unique to our society. The truth is that corruption affects, to varying degrees and with varying effects, virtually all societies in the world, with serious  impact on human rights. For this reason, beyond the traditional assessments of the cultural implications of the phenomenon, the majority of countries who take the problem seriously undertake structural efforts to tackle it.

So the central question is: of what depth are the actions taken by the Mexican government to directly combat the scourge of corruption? If we examine the implementation of state decisions, it seems that there is a serious bid to play a leading role in the international community on this issue, but little commitment to address the problem on the ground.

I describe here three significant events, which from my perspective, show this trend. The first is the hosting of the 2003 High Level Political Conference in which member states of the UN began the signatory process of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), in the city of Mérida. The General Assembly of the United Nations declared, through resolution 58/4, December 9th as International Anti-Corruption Day in commemoration of this meeting. This display of diplomatic force paid off in terms of prestige, as this important treaty (which entered into force on December 14, 2005) is now known as the Mérida Convention.

The second event that shows the importance the Mexican government places on the international sphere is the recent naming of Alfredo Esparza Jaime (Ministry of Public Service) to preside over the Committee of Experts of the Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption for the Organization of American States. This appointment must be understood as the result of a huge effort of coordinated diplomatic action headed by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the Ministry of Public Service. Of course this places Mexico in a privileged space in Latin America in the processes of implementation of the Convention. Paradoxically, although this mechanism was designed as a space in which civil society could participate, in Mexico the government has only made lukewarm promotion efforts and notable and effective actions to incorporate citizenship participation are lacking.

Thirdly, let’s go briefly to the domestic environment to review the signals which the government is sending in regard to combating corruption. First, we are facing an open challenge on the part of various agencies (notably the tax authority and the Attorney General’s office) in complying with resolutions relating to transparency, and persistent efforts to subject the Federal Institute of Access to Public Information to a reviewing body. Both examples open questions with respect to commitment to transparency, one of the principal tools in the battle against corruption.

Another contradiction is the presidential proposal to dissolve the Ministry of Public Service, charged with combating corruption in the federal government and the implementation of control mechanisms in the public administration. Although it is necessary to recognise that the Ministry is not an organisation that should be lauded for its efficacy and sanction powers, crucially the intention to dissolve it does not come accompanied with a serious proposal to implement an anti-corruption policy, but rather the creation of a post within the office of the president. Also overlooked are the matters of incapacity and reduced efficiency to prosecute and punish possible corrupt acts, following up on reports of the Federal Superior Audit Office (which can only give ‘recommendations’ to investigate, often ignored); the poor functioning of preliminary enquiries and poorly-investigated accusations which are consequently repeatedly overturned by judges with constitutional powers.

In sum, one can hardly fault the Mexican government for its work in promoting an international image, within multilateral organisations, that ours is a country committed to the fight against corruption. But the translation of this image into concrete and meaningful actions within Mexico could result in an enormous accumulation of accusations and legitimate claims. The contrast between diplomatic methods and head-on actions in the current political system, is that the former give much prestige while the latter tend to have brutal costs or, similarly, represent political suicide.

This article was originally in spanish and translated by the ICHRP Staff

Further Reading: 

ICHRP (2009).
Corruption and Human Rights: Making the Connection 
Project - Report available in english, spanish, armenian, serbian, thai

ICHRP (2010).
Integrating Human Rights in the Anti-Corruption Agenda : Challenges, Possibilities and Opportunities 
Project - Report - Report available in english, spanish and armenian

 About the Author:

Miguel Pulido Jiménez is the Executive Director of Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, A. C. (Mexico). Fundar recently co-published the Spanish translation of the ICHRP´s report “Integrating Human Rights in the Anti-Corruption Agenda: Challenges, Possibilities and Opportunities”.

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