#Ley3de3 and the Power of Mexican Civil Society

As I discussed in an earlier post, Mexico enacted a series of constitutional anticorruption reforms last spring. I praised those reforms for their comprehensiveness and their potential to resolve problems of corruption at the state and local levels. However, I also noted that they required secondary enabling laws to actually go into effect. Until recently, the likelihood of enacting those laws on time looked slim, as the late-May deadline approached with considerable foot-dragging by the legislature. But Mexican civil society has risen to the challenge in an exciting way. Thanks to a 2012 constitutional reform that allows citizens to introduce bills to the legislature with 120,000 signatures (or 1.3 percent the voter rolls), an anticorruption bill has now been delivered to and is being debated by the Mexican Senate.

Called Ley 3de3, the initiative is an extraordinary example of civic engagement. Leading civil society groups have spearheaded the campaign, and universities and even for-profit businesses have gotten involved (see here and here). When the law was first delivered to the Mexican Senate on March 17th, it had over 300,000 signatures. A second installment of almost 325,000 more signatures was delivered nineteen days later. The legislation works to fill a number of important holes in the Mexican anticorruption landscape. For example, it requires public servants to disclose their assets, private interests, and tax returns (the 3-out-of-3 which gives the law its title) and proposes protection for whistleblowers who report corruption. The law faces a number of obstacles before it is passed, and other laws will be necessary to fully enact the National Anticorruption System promised by the constitutional reforms. However, the Ley 3de3 effort should be cause for, at least tempered, optimism.

The Ley 3de3 campaign actually began as an initiative to encourage elected officials to exceed mandatory disclosure laws and included endorsements of certain candidates (see here and here). However, in part because of the failure of the Mexican legislature to make appropriate strides to enact secondary enabling laws, the initiative expanded to include legislation that would make those disclosures mandatory and otherwise help to implement last spring’s constitutional reforms.

Currently the legislation, along with proposals from Mexican political parties, is being debated in the legislature as required by Section 72 of Mexico’s constitution. Concerns about the legislation’s dilution and conflict between Mexico’s PRI and PAN parties are rampant. That said, it looks as though something could actually pass soon, possibly before the 30th of April when the legislative session ends (see here and here). While the final product still has yet to be seen, this Ley 3de3 episode provides several reasons to be optimistic about the future of the war against corruption in Mexico:

  • First, while subject to change, Ley 3de3 does several encouraging things to directly address shortcomings in Mexico’s current anticorruption framework. First, Mexico does not have laws that define penalties for various corrupt activities including influence peddling (see here). Ley 3de3 defines corruption according to the UN’s best practices: diversion of public funds, influence peddling, abuse of office, bribery, hidden enrichment, collusion, obstruction of justice, illegal use of confidential information, nepotism and conspiracy. It also lays out penalties for these corrupt actions, and it provides guidelines for how to apply those sanctions in a particular case. Second, effective whistleblower protections have been notably absent from Mexican anticorruption law. Article 36 of the legislation begins the process of creating them. Third, Ley 3de3 includes provisions that help the government identify companies with inadequate integrity compliance measures, filling in a gap for medium-sized companies not subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Other important provisions include detailed procedural rules for the investigation and prosecution of corruption.
  • Second, the proposal demonstrates the vibrancy, organization, and effectiveness of Mexico’s civil society. Initially started by the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad and Transparencia Mexicana, numerous other Mexican civil society organizations and attorneys have helped to draft and support the legislation. Mexico’s chambers of commerce, the main public employees union, and a popular chain of pharmacies have collected signatures in support of the legislation at their offices; even Mexican internet stars and radio hosts have gotten involved. The reform also demonstrates Mexican civil society’s adeptness at branding and social media savvy. Ley 3de3 has focused its branding on the legislation’s catchy disclosure requirement rather than some of its other systemic (and arguably more effective) reforms. The initiative has used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to build a ground swell of citizen support for the effort. The hashtag #YaFirméLey3de3, which roughly translates to “I already signed the three-out-of-three law”, was employed to turn page views into signatures. When the law was delivered to the Mexican Senate, it was broadcast on Periscope. While much work is yet to be done, its clear Mexican civil society is thriving and here to stay.
  • Third, this initiative shows the power of the 2012 constitutional amendment as a tool for spurring change. Given the number of signatures the provision requires (and the fact that they needed to be paper rather than electronic), the provision’s usefulness was initially unclear. Organizers of Ley 3de3 said that, prior to their efforts, they knew of only one other citizen-proposed law that made it to the Senate. It was not passed. Now, Ley 3de3 isn’t law yet. However, this episode shows how the mere existence of a citizen initiation provision provides an important rallying point for the Mexican public, and the fact that the Mexican government accepts more than the required signatures allows the public to demonstrate the magnitude of their support for the legislation. As Ley 3de3 gained public support, governors and other elected figures have come out in favor of the legislation. Much of the debate in the Mexican legislature currently centers on how the various parties’ proposals stack up to Ley 3de3. In an unprecedented step, it appears that the leaders of Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad and Transparencia Mexicana will be invited to attend and advise the Mexican legislature during a joint session considering the legislation.

Ultimately, the Mexican public cannot declare victory until it sees the final bill — and given the country’s well documented failures to enforce anticorruption efforts, possibly not until much longer. Furthermore, Ley 3de3 is only part of a larger package of secondary enabling laws that are currently being debated by the legislature. However, this episode should be encouraging to both those working to fight corruption in Mexico and those in civil society groups elsewhere. This work can and does change the conversation.

5 thoughts on “#Ley3de3 and the Power of Mexican Civil Society

  1. It’s great to get an update on your prior post. It is, for lack of a better adjective, very cool to see civil society playing a big role in creating anticorruption reforms in what seems to be a fairly substantive manner (subject to all the caveats you mention–final product as yet unknown, will there be any enforcement, etc.). Do you have a sense of what has led to the particular coalition you describe coming together, and even being willing to dedicate themselves to collecting signatures? Also, if political figures are now being inspired to come out in favor of Ley 3de3, does that indicate there’s a chance such figures might start to incorporate more anticorruption measures into their own campaigns and governance efforts? Or is it simply a matter of them wanting to link themselves to a popular, catchy “brand” and it’s unlikely they’ll make sincere reform efforts of their own? Similar question with regards to enforcement of this particular law, which is something you touch on at the end: do you think the demonstrated energy behind this movement will be enough to persuade those in power to make full use of the law’s provisions?

    If this advocacy campaign works, it could provide useful lessons for other anticorruption advocates. Hopefully there isn’t a “defanging” of the more systemic reforms which you say aren’t reflected in the title in the course of the bill’s process through the legislature; as you highlight, there’s definitely something intriguing and valuable about finding a simple hook (the three-out-of-three element)–you just need to make sure that that hook doesn’t translate into a lesser awareness of systemic reform elements that enables those elements to be removed or underenforced without a large public outcry or real political consequence.

    • Several of the major civil society organizations involved in this law have been working together for some time. Many were involved in the constitutional amendments I discussed in the prior post, for example. As far as how some of the more random organizations got together, I’m less sure. I think it is probably what brings any odd group organizations together: individual leadership, personal connections, kismet.

      As for the politicians, I am going to give you another wishy-washy answer but I think it’s the right one: it depends. I believe some politicians are genuinely interested in reform. This article on the constitutional amendment process gives shout outs to several politicians who deserve credit for their efforts in this fight: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/mexico_the_fight_against_corruption.pdf.

      As for others, I am sure it’s politically opportunistic. One need only look at the current battle between the majority party (PRI) and the opposition (PAN, PRD) to see how these reforms can turn into yet another political battle.

  2. I agree with Katie that it is great to see something happen to move the cause of anticorruption forward in Mexico. If the civil society groups succeed here, this process could be a powerful tool to take additional steps going forward. I have a few questions about the process: First, do you know how drafted the bill that the public put forward to the legislature? I know in many countries legislative draftings is extremely complex and it can be risky to draft legislation without an expert drafter to assist in light of the potential unintended consequences of shoddy drafting. (Of course, expert drafters make mistakes, too.) Second, is the amendment process open to the public? That is, are amended versions of the legislation posted online, are proceedings televised, and can members of the public also submit amendments via the same process? As you point out, now that the process is in the hands of politicians who dragged their feet until now, continued oversight is important to ensure that the goals of the project are carried through. Past posts on this blog discussed the danger that public belief that progress is being made on corruption can sometimes be coopted by those who oppose reform to tell the public action is taking place while real systemic reform is being blocked. Based on your post, I’m hopeful that will not happen in this case.

    • The law was drafted by a number of expert attorneys, and on my read seems quite well done. A full copy of the law is available here: http://ley3de3.mx/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Ley3de3_LEY_IniciativaCiudadanaDeLeyGeneralDeResponsabilidadesAdministrativas_Documento.pdf. The top sheet shows who was involved in the drafting.

      As far as I know, the amending process is not open to the public (in that the public can’t propose amendments), but the public is allowed to see how the bill evolves and is amended. Some of the action in the Mexican legislature has even been broadcast on Periscope.

      As a further update on the progress of the law, it looks like the PAN and PRD (opposition parties) have voted against including the Ley 3 de 3 in the Transparency laws the legislature is working to pass. It’s unclear to me, from the news reports I have seen, whether that means the entire bill is dead or just the disclosure portion. The PRI and PRD have ostensibly created their own version of the Ley 3 de 3, which they call a “3 of 3 plus.” I haven’t seen a full text of that proposal, but according to news reports it includes more specific rules about what to do in instances of conflicts of interest and it extends transparency/anticorruption obligations to even more subordinate levels of the government.

      This is all to say the story is fast-moving, and it is possible this will change several more times before the Mexican legislature recesses at the end of the month.

      I think you are right to flag concerns about the wind being taken out of the sails of the anticorruption movement in Mexico. But I think that is part of what makes the emergence of these vibrant civil society organizations so exciting. Even if momentum fades, there will still be groups out their working to hold the government’s feet to the fire.

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