Pushing the Elephant up the Stairs

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There is no doubt that the Mexican government’s hasty declaration that the covid-19 pandemic is over was motivated by politics and economic interests, not medical science.

The administration of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) didn’t even wait until the daily coronavirus death toll had dropped before issuing a jump-the-gun covid all-clear “green” infection risk traffic light.

Regardless of the still-high numbers and a possible fourth wave of infections in the horizon, the government is going to stick to its guns and refuse to implement any further lockdowns.

The reasons for this deceptive policy are purely economic. The Mexican people and the national economy can no longer afford to remain stagnant. The country doesn’t have the resources to survive anymore in a quasi-active state.

Reactivation in Mexico is urgently needed to prevent hunger among millions of families who are already bordering on abject poverty.

But having made the decision to lift all covid restrictions and reopen everything, the challenge now for AMLO is to set the example and first reactivate his own federal government, and those of Mexico’s states and municipalities.

Despite the still high numbers of covid infections nationwide, AMLO has insisted, ad nauseum, on a full return to in-person classes for students (particularly for university-level students, many of whom have expressed doubts and mistrust of the plan).

The president’s argument is that most teachers have been vaccinated and are therefore not at risk. But the decision to return to face-to-face classes is the sole prerogative of Mexico’s autonomous universities and, after having developed effective means for conducting online classes, some university communities, on the advice by their own scientists, have decided to wait until a larger segment of the population — including students — has been vaccinated and infection rates are lower until going back to in-person learning.

Rather than pressuring Mexico’s universities to return to face-to-face classes, which are, after all, not closed, but working remotely, the federal government would do well to see to it that its own administrative activities are operating at 100 percent capacty.

The full functioning of Mexico’s bureaucratic apparatus, the public sector and its millions of workers, is fundamental to jumpstarting the nation´s productive apparatus.

The problem is that Mexico’s bureaucratic apparatus is a rheumatic elephant, as acknowledged by López Obrador himself, and getting it moving again is not going to be easy.

Stories abound about federal agencies whose workers simply refuse to return to full shifts in their offices, regardless of their vaccination status. The vast majority of those who refuse to return to their offices are unionized bureaucrats who don’t even bother to work from home, offering lame excuses like the fact that they do have a computer or internet connection.

These unionized rank-and-file bureaucrats have, for the last 19 months, been collecting their salaries for basically doing nothing. Their offices are fully reopened, but they only work halftime, at best. Only middle and senior managers are required to attend regularly. In contrast, most of the lower-echelon bureaucratic workers are reluctant to go back and comply with their mandatory six-hour workday.

This lack of full personnel has led to a slowdown in Mexico’s already-lethargic bureaucracy, which means that permits, licenses of any kind, certificates, import or export grants, are all moving ahead at a third of their normal speed, if at all.

In addition to speeding up vaccinations, the federal government now needs to solve the problem created by its listless bureaucratic unions, which are hellbent on delaying the return to face-to-face activities as long as possible, despite the fact that the government’s infection risk traffic light is green and its members have already been vaccinated.

And it is these unions and their leaders who are responsible, at this moment, for Mexico’s static bureaucratic elephant. Unfortunately, too many unionized bureaucrats have gotten used to being paid for working and therefore do not want to return.

If AMLO wants to reactive Mexico, he needs to focus on getting his own government moving, and leave the nation’s autonomous universities — which are working online — alone.

As long as the nation’s bureaucrats can continue to milk the government for pay for doing nothing, Mexico’s economy will never fully recover.


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