|FUNDAR is a pluralist, independent,
horizontal institution which seeks Mexico’s
advancement toward a solid democracy.
In a democracy, the federal public budget should reflect the priorities of the people. In Mexico this is not the case. The Civil Association "Fundar" has been working for 10 years to make Mexico’s public funding transparent by conducting a detailed analysis of fund distribution, from a funding proposal going from the Executive branch to the Legislative, until the monies are spent, reported, and audited by the appropriate government body.
The results of all of these investigations are similar: it is difficult to know where the money has gone. On many occasions it is spent on ways other than that which was authorized, without the appropriate accounting procedures, and in most needy communities the residents’ living conditions have not been materially improved.
However, the management of public budgeting is an area which historically has generated little interest from social organizations and society at large. This resistance seems to be justified by the fact that in Mexico it remains very difficult to know how much money the government spends from the public budget, and precisely what they spend it on.
I. Citizens’ Responses: The Struggle to Open Public Budgets to Scrutiny
For each problem Mexico faces, there is at least one organization dedicated to putting a stop to the issue and proposing appropriate solutions. Thanks to these efforts, organizations gradually gain—or create—tools suitable for counteracting these issues.
Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research (Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación) is a pluralist, independent, horizontal institution without affiliation to any political party, which seeks Mexico’s advancement to a solid democracy. It is dedicated to the monitoring of and incidence in public policies and institutions, using applied research, critical and proactive reflection, experimental activities, and the formation of connections with civil, social, and government actors, as well as other practices related to democracy, equality, and citizen participation.
Fundar was created in early 1999 to develop innovative schemes for citizen participation. They utilize applied research to identify models of action which have been successful abroad and to try new methodologies that can contribute to the resolution of specific social problems.
In the words of founding director Helena Hofbauer, "A democratic system which is built on more than just free elections requires a citizenry informed in government use of public funds and in the priorities applied to limited resources. A nation’s population ought to demand transparent reports from the government, with the triple aim of a) exercising their rights in a consistent and informed way; b) making public employees respond appropriately to their demands by integrating them into the political system; and c) putting an end to a political culture that understands public roles as a personal prerogative and source of benefits for position holders."
I will briefly outline recent Mexican history, focusing on the question of governmental transparency. Beginning with the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000–2006) and taking advantage of the democratic spirit which reigned across the country, a group of citizens, academics, and journalists gave themselves the task of drafting a law which would make it possible to exercise the right to information, as contemplated in the Mexican Constitution from 1977. After two years of arduous work, the Federal Law for Transparency and Access to Public Government Information entered into force in June 2003.
The Law for Transparency has made it possible to break the secrecy of public management and reveal the degree of deterioration in certain practices. The Law returns government affairs to the public domain and public interest, and potentially contributes to a reduction in impunity and corruption. This right to know of and supervise the actions of civil servants and elected representatives, the use of public resources, and the results obtained with these resources marks the start of a new relationship between the State and society, in which the citizenry can participate in social auditing and control.
Currently, transparency cannot be considered a characteristic of Mexico’s federal, state, or local governments. Although great advances have been made in a short time, public employees and institutions resort to many blockages, setbacks, and precipices to reverse their transparency and reporting obligations. One of the most opaque issues, evidently, is the public budget. Fundar promotes a theory of change by exercising—still an innovative tool in Mexico—the right to access public information to conduct research on public documents and budget proceedings, in order to have a strategic impact and thus advance toward a solid democracy.
From the first year of its existence, Fundar identified the analysis of the federal public budget as a priority. At the same time, the organization complements its budget analyses with demands for basic human rights, particularly economic, social, civil, and political rights. Key among them is the right to access information, as an instrument that allows other rights to be exercised.
Step by step, a growing number of organizations have reached specific objectives through increased budget transparency, an area in which Fundar has played a significant role. One of Fundar’s specific lines of work is capacity building and accompaniment of other organizations as they work to open budgets to scrutiny and increase citizen participation, with the aim of strengthening the entire NGO sector.
The obstacles limiting access to budget information in Mexico can be summarized as follows: 1) the long period of just one party in power (the Institutional Revolutionary Party—Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI—controlled Mexico’s federal government for 70 years) which allowed a permissive culture marked by the redistribution of public funds; 2) most Mexican citizens are not interested in the end use of public funds; 3) the government’s objectives seem adverse to the public interest in regard to the need for social development, respect for human rights, and citizens exercising their sovereignty; and 4) no communication channels have been established to allow the timely, widespread distribution of budget information in easily understandable forms, nor are there channels to report or demand penalties or compensation for the misuse of funds or other related crimes.
THE CHALLENGES: FIVE REAL-LIFE CASES
A. The State’s coffers. The Open Budget Survey 2008 was an exhaustive evaluation of budget transparency in 85 countries, conducted by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) with the assistance of civil organizations in the countries studied. The survey revealed that of the countries analyzed, only five make available extensive information to the public as is demanded by good administrative practice. Mexico, ranked 54 of these nations, was evaluated poorly for the delay in publishing the budget, as well as the limited opportunities for citizen participation. The other failed subjects are available in the other cases revealed here.
B. Bark but no bite. Each year the principal auditing body (the Chief Audit Office of Mexico—Auditoría Superior de la Federación, ASF) duly discharges its responsibility to revise and submit the results of its audit of the federal public spending. The last report, delivered in March 2009, is the audit of the first year of governance of the current federal administration. In this report, the ASF determined 9,557 spending "observations" (irregularities). The most remarkable thing about this finding is that the Office comments that "observations" appear each year, without any consequences for the government bodies which committed the irregularities.
C. Unfulfilled promises. The "citizen’s budget" is a document which differs from mere political discourse in that it clearly expresses if governments will fulfill their promises, in pesos and centavos. On an international level, few nations produce citizen’s budgets. The IBP’s study, mentioned above, revealed that only 16 countries issue such a budget, and even some of these are far from being practical, comprehensible, and directed to the citizenry at large. The Mexican Government does not produce a citizen’s budget.
D. Poor human rights. In the last decade, it has been found that one of the most effective forms of advancing human rights is to provide funds to ensure they are promoted, respected, and guaranteed. This idea remains unknown in many countries. Governments speak of their enormous commitment, without putting their money where their mouth is. It is not a question of granting the Ombudsman multi-million peso budgets, as happens in Mexico, but rather ensuring the creation of rights-based budgets, as South Africa has done for some years now.
E. How much did you say you spent? Mexico’s public budget this year came to the impressive amount of USD 200 billion, of which the states directly control 3%. Although these resources have increased yearly, in the reporting of funds this trend is reversed: up until the modification of Article 73 of the constitution in May this year (basis for a law which has yet to be approved by the Senate), Mexico’s states issued their own laws and norms on public accounting. It was therefore almost impossible to know exactly how much was spent on each line item. No wonder the ASF finds irregularities every year.
II. Building Democratic Institutions with the Participation of the Citizenry
Democratic institutions cannot exist without transparency in budget processes. Fundar has conducted numerous investigations and activities on this premise, both alone and in collaboration with other civil, social, or academic organizations. The following are examples of Fundar’s actions in promoting a solid democracy, by exercising the right to access information and conduct budget analyses: that is to say, by promoting budget transparency.
Example 1: In Mexico, as in many other Latin American nations, at election time it becomes possible to use social programs for electoral gain. As a result, one year before the 2006 presidential elections, the Secretariat of Social Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social, SEDESOL) unexpectedly authorized an investigation of the use of public monies in electoral contexts. The Fundar-coordinated study identified patterns of clientelist activities and rigged distribution of resources associated with social programs. The results gave no surprise, but the study’s popularity was based on the fact that it successfully demonstrated the illegal actions of the three principal political parties in an investigation funded by federal government monies only a few months before the presidential elections.
The general conclusions of the study are an ongoing presence of conditions that allow political clientelism, combined with a utilitarian vision of the vote and proven politically motivated usage of federal social programs. In general, the administrative rules are complied with, but only in response to particular political contexts. This is shown by an unusual increase in the number of registered beneficiaries before elections, the distribution of resources dependent on the electoral situation of each state, etc. On the other hand, given that the data presented is analyzed in relation to its use at a federal level, and that information is lost from various sources, it is difficult (if not impossible) to reconstruct the causes of budget behavior. In addition, given the situation of beneficiary families and the fact that they don’t consider or understand themselves to be rights holders, the quality of the financial evaluation which can be conducted is dubious. Finally, by tying access to benefits to the fulfillment of established criteria and commitments of co-responsibility, the State is not fulfilling its obligation to respect the rights of the programs’ beneficiaries or the vulnerable populations which most need the programs.
Although the study was directly—and cynically—quoted by the PRI to attack the ruling party (National Action Party—Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) during the presidential candidates’ televised debate, the proposals it contains have fallen on deaf ears. The government and the heads of secretariats and social programs were changed following the elections, and the new representatives are pleading ignorance of the changes demanded by the study. However, Fundar is now considered a touchstone on this issue, and a growing number of organizations and media outlets are on the lookout for cases of diversion of funds from social programs.
Example 2: The donations and contributions of Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX) to Mexican states is an investigation which sought to find a link between the right to access information and Mexico’s reporting mechanisms, by tracking the donations (in kind and in cash) that PEMEX distributes in regions of greatest oil-related activity to contribute to social development. For this study, Fundar joined forces with the Ecological Association Santo Tomás (Asociación Ecológica Santo Tomás), located in Villahermosa, Tabasco, the state with the second-highest oil activity. They sought to contrast the exercise of the right to access information on a state and federal level, and, as part of their research, see if the resources provided made a positive contribution of the social development of the affected communities.
The results of the investigation demonstrate the opacity of PEMEX’s distribution of resources for social development, as well as the fact that the allocation criteria respond more directly to political pressure from the state, municipalities, and social leaders than to policies designed between these actors and Tabasco society to promote social development in the communities affected by oil activity.
When the study was brought to a close, the end use of some 66 million pesos (USD 4.4 million) given to Tabasco municipalities by PEMEX between 1997 and 2006 remained unknown. Nor could the allocation criteria for the distribution of funds to municipalities be ascertained. The study revealed weaknesses in the reporting mechanisms, both to the citizenry and between municipal, state, and federal government bodies. Clearly, the lack of internal accounting has generated optimal conditions for the diversion and misuse of public funds.
One of the clear achievements of this project was the reform of PEMEX’s internal guidelines for the distribution of resources in the states, so that they now demonstrate greater transparency and clearer reporting mechanisms.
Example 3: In 2001, Fundar coordinated eight organizations from five countries in the region—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—in the development of the first edition of the Latin American Index of Budget Transparency (Índice Latinoamericano de Transparencia Presupuestaria, ILTP). This study aimed to evaluate the degree of transparency in budgeting practices, using a method of analysis developed by Fundar. It included a perception survey, to be answered by experts and users of budgeting information, and a formal study of the framework regulating the budgeting process, to be conducted by a specialist in the field.
By 2007, 15 civil society and academic organizations participated in the study, from 10 countries in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. The most important result of this edition of the ILTP was that only Costa Rica achieved a positive evaluation.
In general terms, the ILTP has let us read between the lines to see that laws for access to information are not enough to conduct a better evaluation of budget transparency: they do not guarantee timely access to budgets, nor do the laws alone establish better conditions for penalties, incentives to promote participation, or improvements in the control process.
Nevertheless, it has not been possible to duplicate the successes on an international level within Mexico. Following the achievements of the ILTP, Fundar initiated a State Index of Budget Transparency in 2005; this never became operational. Variances in content, including the existence—or lack—of laws at a state level; the limited exercise of the right to access information in states; the lack of specific capacities and resources in civil society organizations to conduct appropriate analysis; the impossibility of applying the same methods in such diverse contexts, as well as changing and adverse political contexts, did not allow the Fundar team to reach conclusions based on hard facts.
Example 4: The Index of Open Budgets is coordinated by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), an NGO based in Washington, DC whose objective is to support civil organizations worldwide who are interested in strengthening the participation of civil society in budgeting processes, institutions, and results in their home countries. The Index is operated by civil society and academic groups in each country; Fundar conducted the Mexican study and coordinated the project’s regional launch.
The Index of Open Budgets is the only comparative measure of governmental budgeting transparency in 85 countries, completed by specialists in the field and verified independently. In the last edition (2008), the study revealed that almost half of the 85 nations examined provide only minimal information to the public. The resulting opacity allows governments to conceal wasted funds or spending which is unpopular, excessive, or illegal.
The participating countries in our region—covering Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic—can at best be characterized by their mediocrity. They all failed the examination (with a rating of less than 60 on a scale of 1-100), and scored below countries such as Brazil (74), Peru (66), Botswana (62), and Romania (62), and well below the highest-scored: the United Kingdom (88), South Africa (87), and France (87).
Example 5: The most recent budget transparency project launched by Fundar is Farm Subsidies in Mexico (Subsidios al Campo en México, http://subsidiosalcampo.org.mx/), which allows the public to find out how much money the government has directed to rural Mexico, as well as the hands, states, or products it is concentrated in. It is the first website in Latin America which makes agricultural support transparent. In a simple format (to later conduct more sophisticated analysis), it presents official data from the State’s secretariats, decentralized organizations, and research centers, among others.
The objectives of the project were: 1) to make transparent the beneficiary patterns of programs from each secretariat that supports production and commercialization, identifying who receives how much in agricultural subsidies and where those funds end up; 2) to promote the right to access public information through the Federal Law on Transparency and Access to Public Governmental Information; and 3) to promote reporting by government bodies, decision makers, and civil servants involved in the federal government’s agricultural policy.
This project was completed thanks to support from the Center of Social Accounting and Democratic Construction Studies (Centro de Contraloría Social y Estudios de la Construcción Democrática) of the Center for Anthropological Research and Higher Studies (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, CIESAS), through its Program Supporting Social Accounting Initiatives originating from civil society; from the Environmental Working Group for its contribution of specialized technical consulting in processing and administrating databases; from the University of California, Santa Cruz Campus, which provided supervision and accompaniment through its project "The right to access information and public policy for rural livelihoods"; and from the National Association of Farm Production and Commercialization (Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras de Productores del Campo), which provided specialized technical support.
In October 2008, Fundar released this project, which took more than a year to complete, to the media. Although the main attraction of the site are the people’s names that can be found in the list of beneficiaries, the focus of the launch was on the achievement of citizens’ groups to make transparent and provide information on the final use of billions of pesos of the federal budget. This information, despite being classified as "public," was unknown to most, including academics and small farmers who had regularly requested these funds.
Days later, Fundar presented the information to the Center for Sustainable Rural Development and Food Sovereignty Studies (Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo Rural Sustentable y la Soberanía Alimentaria) of Mexico’s Congress, aiming to promote its use in control and evaluation. The publication of this webpage makes it possible for those who should be participating in the process of public management, as well as those who benefit from subsidies, to easily access the relevant information. In addition, it permits legislators to better control and evaluate the results of public policy.
Recognizing that politicians and former civil servants were among the beneficiaries who received most subsidies, Fundar, together with the other participant organizations, outlined a detailed plan of strategic actions to highlight the great importance of the information which appeared on the webpage, as well as its substantial value in terms of the advancement of rural development. To date, it is one of the most utilized tools by academics in various fields of study, and the project is recognized as one of the most useful democratic instruments created by Mexican citizens’ groups.
A. Producing information and evidence which is reflexive, critical, and proactive on rural policies, based on an analysis of the distribution of subsidies.
B. Distributing accessible information to groups and individuals interested in subsidy distribution policies.
C. Helping to combat the structure of resource concentration. A lot of money is held in only a few hands. Just 1% of recipients of subsidies are granted more than 23% of the benefits offered.
D. Analyzing program design. It has been proven that program design is modified as the project goes along, altering public policy in ways that constitute a change in the structure of distribution of subsidies. Programs oriented to supporting small producers and those most in need end up granting resources to the wealthiest sectors, pushing to one side the designated beneficiary population.
E. Impacting on the design of rural projects, as the design of social programs currently lacks long-term policy, consistent operating rules, criteria for the assignment of resources, and general or specific objectives.
On this issue, Fundar concentrates its proposals in these general areas:
- Information on all social programs, not only those supporting rural livelihoods, should be publicly available and distributed in a clear, simple, and timely manner, as demanded by the law.
- Increased funds are not required for rural areas. Rather, the funds currently offered should be distributed where needed, thus avoiding the concentration of resources in the hands of less needy beneficiaries.
- Representatives and auditing bodies should conduct similar exercises in transparency and analysis of relevant budget issues, to initiate effective reporting mechanisms.
III. Conclusions: Connections Between the Global and the Local
Mexico shares these challenges and problems with most other countries in the region. Newspapers across Latin America are overwhelmed with cases of fraud or diversion of public funds. It is not only in Mexico that most people do not understand the benefits of fighting for more and better spaces for citizen participation, or tracking public resources that, in the end, came out of their pockets.
Likewise, quality reporting was until recently an unknown concept in Latin America. Even now, little benefit is gained by most sectors of the population, as good reporting is hollow if it is not delivered into the hands of citizens who are willing to demand their rights and oblige rulers and representatives to fulfill their work or, alternatively, face meaningful penalties.
Budgets matter. A lot. In budgets are expressed the objectives, commitments, and priorities of our rulers. Analyzing them allows us to evaluate who wins and who loses in the distribution of public funds; who decides, according to what criteria, and how public funds are allocated and audited. The availability of budget information is an indispensable requisite for clear reporting, an incentive for the informed participation of civil society in public management processes. Only then is it possible to guarantee that all decisions are truly justified and in the public domain. Analysis and evaluation of transparency in budgeting processes is an essential component in the strengthening of public institutions, the consolidation of the rule of law, and the structuring of effective channels of communication and feedback between society and government.
Mtro. Jorge Romero León
It is for this reason that any country which seeks to consolidate a democratic system should provide full reporting to its citizenry, starting with making the information on the end use of public funds transparent and available.
Fundar’s work has not been easy. Finalizing the cases or projects mentioned here has been a significant challenge. The achievements made and lessons learned from each undertaking has demanded great energy, as well as the support, knowledge, and interest of key actors within Mexico and abroad. For this reason, Fundar does not consider itself a center for analysis and research only, but rather as a part of the democratic and pluralist machinery represented by civil society in each country. Without counterpart organizations, serious journalists, contact with committed representatives and civil servants, international examples to imitate, the capacity of achieving a synergy with the aims of funding bodies, and without the enormous enthusiasm, professionalism, and dedication of its members and friends in different countries, Fundar would not have celebrated its 10th anniversary with the public recognition it currently enjoys. This has been reflected through several media outlets, public references to its work, and its presence in discussion forums and joint activities with different government bodies, academic institutions, and citizens’ organizations.
However, speaking of Fundar’s specific achievements is complicated. It is not possible to number the civil servants or practices which have been penalized, tally the resources which were spent where they needed to be, or the people who had appropriate access to resources, attention, or benefits, nor list the improvements in federal or state government transparency. No organization can provide this information, even less so in an article of this length. Nor is the objective to list our achievements. The most important fact is the daily work that goes into finding specific cases and issues, whose improvement, no matter how minimal, directly contributes to transparency, reporting, citizen participation, plurality, and—at the end of the day—equality, fair rule of law, and solid democracy in Mexico.
IV. Actors and references
A. Contact details for key actors
Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research
Cerrada de Alberto Zamora #21
Verónica Soto: (+52-55) 5554-3001 ext.101
Federal Institute for Access to Information
Av. México #151
Jacqueline Peschard (President): (+52-55) 5004-2400
Ministry of Housing and Public Credit
Palacio Nacional, Plaza de la Constitución s/n
Contact: Agustín Guillermo Carstens
House of Representatives
Av. Congreso de la Unión no. 66, Col. El Parque
National Institute of Social Development
2da Cerrada de Belisario Domínguez #40
Telephone: (+52-55) 5554-0390
Chief Audit Office of Mexico
Av. Coyoacan #1501
Telephone: (+52-55) 5200-1500
1. Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research:
- Farm subsidies in Mexico: http://subsidiosalcampo.org.mx/
- Latin American Index of Budget Transparency 2007 (Índice Latinoamericana de Transparencia Presupuestaria 2007): http://www.fundar.org.mx/boletines2007/boletin_21nov_2007.htm
- Observation of social programs in electoral contexts (Monitoreo de programas sociales en contextos electorales): http://www.fundar.org.mx/programassociales/programassociales.htm
- Women’s Health Coalition (Coalición por la Salud de las Mujeres): http://www.fundar.org.mx/np2008/coalicionindex.htm
2. Civil society organizations and academic centers:
- Alternatives and Capacities (Alternativas y Capacidades): www.alternativasociales.org.mx
- Autonomous Technology Institute of Mexico (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, ITAM): www.itam.mx
- International Budget Partnership (IBP): www.internationalbudget.org
- Center for Anthropological Research and Higher Studies (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, CIESAS): www.ciesas.edu.mx
- National Association of Farm Production and Commercialization (Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras de Productores del Campo, ANEC): http://anec.laneta.apc.org/
- Social Impact (Incide Social): www.incidesocial.org
3. Public bodies:
- National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI): www.inegi.org.mx
- Secretariat of Agriculture, Cattle, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación, SAGARPA): www.sagarpa.gob.mx
- Secretariat for Social Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social, SEDESOL): www.sedesol.gob.mx