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Monday, May 20, 2024

Mexico’s Lopez Obrador backs plan to shutter transparency office

Mexico’s Lopez Obrador backs plan to shutter transparency office

The Mexican president has renewed calls for the independent transparency agency to be folded into other government offices.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called for an end to the agency that oversees government transparency and freedom of information, in what critics consider his latest attempt to limit oversight.

After recovering from a third COVID infection, López Obrador resumed his practice of morning press conferences on Friday, where he backed a plan proposed by his political party to shutter the Institute for Information Access and Transparency (INAI).

“Let the federal comptroller’s office, which belongs to another branch of government, the legislative branch, take over this function and let this agency disappear. Enough playing with appearances,” he said, adding that INAI’s dissolution would save taxpayer money.

Mexico created its freedom of information system in 2002 – laying the groundwork for INAI – and a constitutional reform in 2013 granted the agency autonomy to ensure it can provide transparency without interference.

INAI holds the power to compel other government bodies to submit to freedom of information requests as part of the government’s checks against corruption. But INAI has been in crisis recently, as appointments to its seven-member governing body have been stymied by the ruling party, called the National Regeneration Movement or Morena.

INAI needs at least five members to form a quorum. Currently, it has only four, leaving the institute unable to issue official decisions.

Protesters pin banners in support of INAI, Mexico’s transparency agency, on April 28

Late on Thursday, Mexico’s Senate once again failed to appoint a fifth member to the agency, amid opposition from the Morena policy.

The deadlock briefly prompted a scuffle on the chamber floor as opposition legislators unfurled banners at the Senate podium calling for immediate appointments to INAI. The Associated Press reported that Morena Senator César Cravioto was seen slapping away hands in an attempt to wrestle the banners away.

Also on Thursday, the president of the Senate, Morena ally Alejandro Armenta Mier, introduced an initiative to get rid of the agency altogether, folding it into the government’s civil service functions.

The opposition has already promised to block the bill, which needs a two-thirds majority to be approved.

López Obrador has long criticised INAI, denouncing it as a waste of government funds. Last month, he vetoed two new INAI appointees, preventing it from reaching the minimum of five members it needs to function.

Demonstrators gather outside Mexico’s Senate to show their support for INAI after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador threatened to shutter the agency on April 28

He has also been critical of the country’s judicial system for blocking his policies, saying it is “eclipsed by money, by economic power”. He supported a controversial bill in February to slash the budget for Mexico’s electoral agency and weaken campaign spending oversight.

That stance has earned López Obrador criticism for dismantling democratic safeguards.

In 2021, when the president announced plans to eliminate INAI, Human Rights Watch issued a statement blasting the proposal.

“Shuttering this independent body and transferring its functions to entities that report to the executive or Congress is the perfect recipe for secrecy and abuse,” the right group’s Americas director said at the time.


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