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.