Newsmakers : Fox Wins Kudos For Transparency Gains



Mexican President Vicente Fox, who won office on an anti-corruption platform in 2000, got a pat on the back from the OECD on his administrations efforts for greater transparency.With corruption an endemic problem, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers estimates Mexico loses some $8.5 billion in potential investments each year, partly due to what some call the countrys corruption tax on businesses.

Foxs efforts include cutting 165,000 government administrative posts, saving $500 million since 2001. Nepotism, repaying political favors with government jobs and creating non-existent payrolls had been common practice under Foxs predecessors.The government has also begun imposing penalties on public sector workers for everything from budget violations to negligence and a more subjective category called lack of honesty.

A federal transparency law passed in 2000 has thrown open government data and files once off-limits to citizens. Just a decade ago, few knew what the presidents salary was some $200,000 basebut it is now published on government websites along with that of other civil servants. Economic data releases that had once been erratic are now on a set calendar.An enforcement agency was established to ensure that all state agencies are complying with their new transparency requirements.

Mexico even hosted the signing ceremony for the UN Convention against Corruption last December.

The new-found transparency has hit home for the Fox family.When reporters uncovered President and Mrs. Foxs hefty (though legal) spending on clothing for official functions using public funds, they demanded to see the actual receipts.The government refused at first, arguing that receipts contain such personal information as the First Ladys dress size. However, the decision was appealed, and the First Couple was forced to hand them over.

Despite such progress, there are some challenges ahead.The OECD, in a report released in October, says bank secrecy laws remain a problem.The Federal Electoral Institute, the agency in charge of elections, is also pushing for greater campaign funding transparency, as it currently has no access to political party finances. Others say anti-corruption efforts have been concentrated on a federal level, for which more also needs to be done on the municipal and local front.

Santiago Fittipaldi