Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Anti-corruption activists vigorously applauded new laws signed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this week that will require public servants to disclose their financial assets, interests and tax payments for the first time in the nation’s history.
“Public servants in Mexico have never been required by law to make financial disclosures regarding their assets,” said Rafael Garcia Aceves, a project coordinator with the anti-corruption citizens’ activist group Transparency Mexico.
“It is historic. It is something that civil society pushed for. It’s not going to resolve the problem but it will create new incentives for fighting corruption,” Aceves said.
The package of seven anti-corruption laws signed by Peña Nieto on Monday result in part from an historic citizens’ initiative petition made possible by recent changes to the country’s Constitution, forcing the federal Congress to act.
The petition, signed by more than half a million citizens, called for public servants’ financial and tax disclosures to be made mandatory and public.
Under the anti-corruption package, however, the disclosures won’t be public but will be filed with a new federal anti-corruption body instead, Aceves noted.
“Once you have the information you need authority to act. We expect the agency that will have this information to administer it and when they find something is wrong, submit it to the anti-corruption prosecutor,” he said.
The pilfering of public funds for private gain by public servants in Mexico is legendary.
Governors in the states of Veracruz and Quintana Roo have been accused of corruption.
“The level of corruption going on in Veracruz is so great the federal government has realized it has to intervene,” Hilario Barceleta, an economist at the University of Veracruz, told Reuters recently.
The average Mexican family spends 33 percent of its income on bribes to public officials in the course of obtaining government services and permits, according to a press release issued after the bill signing by Transparency Mexico.
The new laws, according to Aceves, empower federal audit authorities to audit how states use funds sent to them by the federal government.
“This is a big change,” he said, noting that the audits will also be permitted in “real time” rather than at the end of each fiscal year.
The laws also create a special anti-corruption court and give the senate power to ratify the president’s choice of the head of the ministry controlling the federal bureaucracy.
The package of laws, slated to be implemented from September, are modeled on anti-corruption tools used in many G-20 nations, Aceves said, adding that Mexico now has a chance to “differentiate itself from its past and if the system is implemented right, we could be a model for other countries.”
“We will propose a second package of reforms to be made. We believe that the public works law needs to be reformed and we need to reform more laws to complement these changes.”
At Monday’s signing, Peña Nieto said Mexicans feel “injured and pained” by corruption.
He also acknowledged that controversy in 2014 surrounding his wife’s purchase of a multi-million-dollar home in Mexico City from a major government contractor caused “huge indignation.”
According to remarks posted on the presidential website, he insisted he had not broken the law, but said that public servants “are responsible for the perceptions we generate and in this, I recognize that I committed an error.”
“Although I behaved in accordance with the law, this error affected my family, damaged the investiture of the presidency and confidence in the government. I personally felt Mexicans’ irritation. I understand it perfectly, and for that reason, in total humility, I ask for their forgiveness.”
A government investigation of the home purchase, and the purchase of another home by the president’s finance minister from the same contractor found no wrong doing, Reuters reported.