Mexico; Making Progress in Tackling Corruption?

Miguel Angel Lara Otaola (University of Sussex)

Mexico’s new President, Enrique Peña Nieto, has proposed two initiatives to tackle corruption in the country. These include strengthening the Federal Institute for the Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) and creating a National Anti-Corruption Commission. However, as Professor Dan Hough wrote in this same space a few weeks ago, “knowing what works in terms of tackling corruption is not easy”.  Will these proposals work? From international examples and best practices we have learnt that political support and independence are key to the success of anti-corruption efforts.

The first proposal has already been approved and extends the powers of the Federal Institute for the Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI). Now, the institution has become autonomous and in addition to overseeing the Executive branch, and it can now guarantee access to the information in power of the legislature and the judiciary, unions, political parties, and any other institution or body that receives public funding.

In addition, the second proposal – which has not yet been presented – consists in the creation of an independent and autonomous National Anti-Corruption Commission. This Commission will replace the Ministry of Public Administration and go beyond its powers as in addition to prosecuting corruption cases in the executive branch, it will have the power to investigate and prosecute cases in all three branches of government and at all levels (National, Provincial and Municipal). Another novelty is that it will be independent as it will no longer be part of the executive and its commissioners will be nominated by the President and ratified by a 2/3 majority in the Senate. Besides targeting civil servants, it will also go after corrupt politicians and citizens.

On paper, these proposals look good. However, experience from around 150 Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACA) around the world and from the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), shows that Anti-Corruption Commissions must be independent and enjoy wide political support. In addition, they must act in a favouring context with a strong system of accountability and rule of law.

As for political support, the initiative to create the Anti-Corruption Commission is part of the “Pacto por Mexico” (Pact for Mexico), a comprehensive and informal agreement between the main political parties for passing reforms that contribute to Mexico’s growth, competitiveness and development. So far, this Pact has achieved many and long overdue structural transformations to the country. In a year, the constitution has been modified several times (which requires a 2/3 majority and an approval by the legislatures of 17 states) to implement reforms to Mexico’s education, tax, telecommunications, finance and political systems. Amongst others, a national civil service for teachers was implemented, independent candidates can now compete against political parties, revenue tax has increased and become more progressive, and there is now more competition between the main TV networks. It seems that this political momentum will continue and widely support the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

In addition, creating and Anti-Corruption Commission alone does not solve the problem of corruption. It success also depends on its independence and the political system where it operates. Doig et al (2005) warn against the “Icarus Paradox” of Anti-Corruption commissions whereby agencies that get to close to the sun can become victims of their own success.  Anti-corruption agencies must be shielded from its foes and from political pressures. Moreover, agencies must operate in an enabling environment. As a forthcoming paper argues, Mexico’s new Anti-Corruption Commission faces a weak judiciary, an under-developed legal system, and the lack of coordination in Mexico’s federal system (Lara-Otaola, Miguel Tromme, Matthieu, 2014). These are not easy challenges and need to be addressed in the design of the new agency but also in reforming other institutions and systems needed for effective tackling of corruption.



­­­Doig Alan, Watt, David, Williams, Robert, (2005), ‘Measuring ‘Success’ in Five Africa Anti-Corruption Commissions. The Cases of Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia’, U4 Research Report, Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute

Lara-Otaola, Tromme, Mathieu (2014). ‘Enrique Peña Nieto’s National Anti-Corruption Commission and the challenges for waging war against corruption in Mexico’, Forthcoming, 2014.

For more information on issues raised in this post, please contact Miguel at

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