Updated April 29 — What are the three words that Mexicans think of when they hear the word “Mexico”? Country, culture, and corruption. Nearly 78 percent consider corruption as the factor that’s most damaging to the economy, per a 2014 nationwide survey of 32,000 people. On top of that, seven in 10 surveyed consider the public sector to be more corrupt than the private, and that it’ll be difficult for Mexico to do away with corruption.
It may be hard, but one piece of legislation, known as Ley 3de3, or the “3for3 Law,” was designed to help Mexico move closer to that goal. The bill faces tough obstacles in Mexico’s Congress, but the citizen-backed measure seeks to hold officials accountable. AS/COA’s Carin Zissis spoke about the initiative with Max Kaiser, anticorruption director at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) and one of the bill’s authors, about what’s involved and why the law’s timing is so important.
1. Ley 3de3 has its roots in an online platform seeking transparency from public officials.
In the months leading up to Mexico’s midterm vote of June 2015, IMCO and another civil society group, Transparencia Mexicana, launched an online platform called 3de3, named as such because it asks candidates to disclose three pieces of information: personal assets, possible conflicts of interest, and taxes. Only a couple hundred officials made these declarations, but Kaiser says it drew huge public interest to the tune of tens of thousands of daily website visits, with voters checking to see if candidates had disclosed their financial information.
2. Politicians didn’t feel compelled to participate, so the next step involved drafting legislation to make it a legal obligation.
After the 2015 midterms ended, it became clear that the only way politicians would be compelled to make these disclosures were if doing so became a legal requirement. Not only that, but ensuring the veracity of the declarations requires government involvement.
To that end, civil society groups developed Ley 3de3, which obligates politicians to make their declarations and to do so publicly. The law also sets a code of conduct for public officials and defines 10 types of corruption that would earn them punishments, like being forced to step down or getting barred from holding office again.
At the time of this report, corruption is undefined in Mexico’s legal system.
3. The legislation got over five times the number of signatures required for congressional consideration. Social media helped make it happen.
The law’s drafters decided that, rather than trying to get a political party to back the law, they would turn to the country’s citizens. A legal mechanism built into a 2014 political reform allows Mexicans to propose new legislation if supported with signatures of 0.13 percent of the electorate—or roughly 120,000 signatures backed by voter identification. Pulling this off required social media outreach to get people to download and fill out the form, submit their signatures at one of dozens of locations, and share the news that they’d signed using the hashtag #YaFirméLey3de3, or #IveSignedLey3de3. Even celebrities like Mexican film star Diego Luna are backing the bill.
Since early February, when the groups behind the law started the campaign, roughly 634,000 signatures have been delivered to Mexico’s Congress, says Kaiser.
4. Ley 3de3 is up for debate at the moment as part of a package of laws to usher in a National Anticorruption System. It’s one of the pieces of legislation facing stiff opposition.
In the spring of 2015, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a constitutional reform to create a National Anticorruption System, and secondary laws to implement that reform—of which Ley 3de3 is one of seven—must be approved by May 28. Also, the current session of Congress closes on April 30.
But legislators, particularly from the governing the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the allied Green Party (PVEM), keep setting up roadblocks to different parts of the package, and particularly Ley 3de3.
Last week, several members of the PRI and PVEM failed to show up to working meetings to discuss the anticorruption package. A few days later, the head of the PRI in the Senate, Emilio Gamboa Patrón, said that aspects of the National Anticorruption System, including Ley 3de3, would lead to witch hunts.
Then, on April 28, the PRI and PVEM—who hold a legislative majority—presented their anticorruption package, which included just five of the seven implementing laws. One of the two laws missing from the proposal was Ley 3de3. Instead, lawmakers offered a watered-down version of the measure in which politicians would not be required to make their declarations public.
There’s a risk that Ley 3de3 could be dead in the water, but, as of April 28, the package is likely heading into special sessions.
“One of the problems of the Mexican Congress is that deadlines are never met,” says Kaiser.
5. The legislative package and support for Ley 3de3 comes at a point when the outcry over corruption is coming to a head in Mexico.
On Sunday, an independent panel of experts released their final report indicating signs of a government cover-up in the high-profile Ayotzinapa case involving 43 students who disappeared in September 2014. Two months after they went missing, news broke that Mexico’s first lady owns a $7 million home built by a government contractor. That contractor later made an appearance in the Panama Papers.
Mexican corruption, which the World Bank indicates could represent as much as 9 percent of the country’s GDP, compromises everything from security to health to education, says Kaiser. He explains that public outrage has reached a boiling point because, during a transition to democracy over the past two decades, a push for transparency was not matched with holding people accountable. “Frustration grew and grew, because impunity became the norm,” he says. “We see the scandal, we see the corrupt politician having homes in Miami or apartments in New York, but nothing happens.”
But Kaiser voices optimism for the future, saying that one victory of Ley 3de3 is that it changed what he calls the “monopoly on political debate” held by political parties by involving the voice of the people. “There’s a glimpse of hope in Mexico,” he says. “Mexican society is waking up and it’s realizing now that it can have an actual and direct influence in the political discussion.”
Meanwhile, the 3de3 platform that started it all is still up and running. The mayor of Mexico City and several candidates in the country’s June gubernatorial elections are among officials who recently filed their financial disclosures.