The Mexican Pulse

By Glenn Holland

Mexico City, Aug. 2 ­ One hundred fifty years ago the governor of Oaxaca and future president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, was at the vanguard of transparency. All files were open to the public, including those that detailed government revenue and spending. Today José Murát, governor of the same state, moves about in secrecy. The public can not know anything about money flows in the state government. Not even legislators in the state senate know how much Murát earns, even though Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act took effect over a year ago for all of the country’s government dependencies. I wonder why there are so many secrets.

—According to the Bank of Mexico, money transfers sent from the U.S. climbed 26%, reaching nearly US $8 billion, in the first six months of 2004 in comparison with the same period last year. If the growing trend continues, by the end of the year the transfers will surpass income from oil exports and tourism and become the largest source of revenue for the federal government.

—The Federal Preventive Police department has reported that 368 gas stations in the country supply from 5% to 44% less gas than what the gas pumps register. If it is true, the fraud would represent 8.65 billion pesos in irregularities. The cases will be turned over to the Federal Attorney General’s office for review.

—Right now José Luis Ramírez Mantilla is supposedly responsible for laundering 6.57 million pesos while he was an official in a government agency that gives housing credits in the state of Puebla. What is interesting is that although his trial is in process, he now administers the finds that are used to build schools in the same state.

—The agreement between bankers and the Institute for Bank Savings Protection (IPAB) that was reached last month has a small correction: the part that Mexican taxpayers will have to pay will not simply add up to 107 billion pesos, rather 224 billion. It seems that the Treasury Department did not inform the public of the true cost of the bailout (robbery), they only wanted to hide what was embarrassing: the government will cover 75% of the debt while the bankers will cover 25%.

—Legislators in the House of Representatives voted to have a prolonged session in which they will promote a possible new law on social security. Although they are really trying hard to cure the government’s aquiles heel, they are testing the recently established Freedom of Information Act: it seems that they will classify the documents as public in 30 years.

—When investigators reviewed the accounts of Vamos México—a social organization headed by First Lady Marta Sahagún—they found evidence that could tie the organization to illegal money flows from the National Lottery. Many questions then arose about Transforma México, a trusteeship created by President Fox in 2001 to “close the door on corruption in the National Lottery.”

The Superior Auditor of the Republic was called to do a more serious investigation. They found that Transforma México used favoritism in its donations, that sometimes it did not notify the Treasury Department of these movements and that several of the benefited associations are linked to Vamos México.

The director of the National Lottery was relieved on July 13. The new director has frozen the remaining 20 million pesos (from a total of 110 million) that were destined to Transforma México. Investigations are still ongoing.