Mexican NGOs join forces to evaluate and promote transparency in the legislative branch
Researchers from the Transparency Audit Network spoke with Manuel Guadarrama, a consultant form the Mexican Institute for Competitivity (IMCO), one of the NGOs who launched the Alliance for an Open Parliament (Alianza para el Parlamento Abierto – APA). Guadarrama spoke wiht us about the advent of this Alliance and the main finds of the Diagnosis of Open Parliament in Mexico (Diagnóstico de Prlamento Abierto en México), the first study of its kind to evaluate 34 Mexican legislative institutions.
Among the results of the study, we highlight the fact that, although the principle of right to information is complied with about 84% of the time, the principles of citizens’ participation, publishing of budgetary and administrative information, and open data, are only complied with 40%, 24% and 0.3% respectively.
The reflections shared are a positive encouragement for the replication of the assessment in other countries in the region.
What motivated the creation of the Alliance for Open Parliament and the production of the diagnosis?
Together with the group of civil society organizations with which we’ve been participating in the work plan of the Alliance for Open Government, we realized that until now, in Mexico, the impetus for transparency had been overlooked beyond the executive power. Thus, the idea emerged of launching a parallel alliance which would move forward alongside it, with its own agenda of open governance in the legislative branch, which would involve more civil society organizations (twelve currently) specializing in relates themes; that is how the Alliance for Open Parliament came to be. The Diagnosis of Open Parliament in Mexico constitutes the first project of this alliance, and its main objective was to constitute a baseline, as there were no similar studies conducted prior to it.
Please comment on your experience working with APA. What challenges did you have to face?
It has been an arduous —albeit gratifying—task; it took us about a year of work to constitute the APA and launch the diagnostic.
At the moment of constituting the APA, one of the challenges was to establish criteria for its independence. Requirements were established for the constituting organizations, among them, perhaps the most difficult to fulfill, was that no constituting organization could work with any of the congresses for profit. Another difficulty we had to face was that the APA did not receive the same recognition from the Chamber of Deputies as it had from the Senate, with which the signing took place in a public event. In this sense, the APA saw its progress slightly slowed, but the driving group is still hard at work.
For the development of the diagnostic, the first challenge was to agree on definitions for the different aspects of the methodology, starting from the 10 minimum principles which must be fulfilled in order to say a parliament is working towards open governance, up to the necessary procedures for achieving methodological rigor in the diagnosis and reducing subjectivity in its implementation, such as the random distribution of congresses to be evaluated and the triple round of evaluation.
What were your expectations before conducting this study, and how did they contrast with the results obtained? Could you comment on the most remarkable positive and negative aspects?
Evaluating the principle of right to information, referring to disseminating mandatory information according to the Law, we were surprised to find a level of compliance greater than 80%, a result we did not expect in a first assessment of the legislative branch, but which says a lot about the general advances made after more than 10 years of the coming into effect of the Transparency Law.
On the other hand, we found several bad practices regarding the budgetary aspect. Despite transparency and public finance laws establishing requirements for the format, periodicity, and electronic availability of the financial reports, there is a high level of non-compliance. None of the assessed agencies complied 100% with the requirements, there is, in this aspect, complete opacity, we do not know how much they earmarked for travel, official representation expenses, or the size of the budget for the Congress’ commissions or governing bodies.
What has been, up to now, the impact of the publication of the diagnosis, and what are the next steps for APA?
The receptivity of the congresses has been varied. In the cases when it has been more positive, we have already begun working with them to develop plans of action based on the results of the diagnosis. We look to promote consensus among the political powers in the congresses for greater success in the implementation of these plans of action.
The achievement of this assessment was a first step, which measured basic aspects. We are working towards the improvement of the methodology based on a few recommendations made by external evaluators and academics. We hope to launch, this year, a new edition of this diagnosis, permitting a deeper assessment.