Navigating Mexico: Getting Government Data
By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
Mexico’s National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Data Protection (INAI) has been in the news quite a bit recently for political reasons.. But it is important to know the work this autonomous agency does and the amazing free resource is it for the general public.
The INAI was created in 2002 by the Mexican Senate, and opened its doors one year later in 2003 to be a clearing house for transparency of government documents, including salaries, contracts and decisions. It works for all three levels of government: federal, state and local.
The INAI’s second purpose is to protect private citizen’s personal information. Its creation was not just about the altruistic spirit of transparency. Mexico was obliged to have an agency of its kind after ratifying several international treaties.
This agency may be one of the hardest working in Mexico. In 2021, it processed 296,891 requests for information not already uploaded to its site.
It takes about two minutes to find info like a government official’s salary, and about six minutes to formally make a special request for information that might require the agency to conduct a search
Municipal, state and federal government are required to upload most of the info the public or press might be interested in knowing: organizational directory of government offices, salaries of every government worker and elected official, services provided by all levels of government, the requirements for different types of permits and services, all government contracts, lists of who and how much individuals were assisted by government programs, the list of government employees with official sanctions placed against them, yearly approved budgets of different government agencies, and, finally, how the approved government budget was actually spent.
While it may be difficult to come up with a common definition of the word “government,” a helpful guideline could be: any entity doing the people’s work in public. The INAI actually warehouses the data produced from doing the people’s work.
The amount of available information is amazing and evidences a commitment to democracy and its processes.
So for example, if you wanted to know the president’s salary, or that of any other government employee or elected official, you would enter the site, click on salaries, enter the person’s name and the amount will would appear for their monthly salary. From there, you could click further to see if there are any other monetary benefits linked to that salary.
For the other type of data requests, those for specialized information not already uploaded to the site (the 296,891 requests processed in 2021), you have to request the info you want on-line and in about three weeks you will normally get a response.
These requests are more complicated. You need to know exactly what you are looking for. For example, if a construction next to the beach looks suspicious because no permissions were posted, are you requesting the construction permit or are you requesting an environmental impact study?
It can be equally challenging to know which level of government has this info, and even more challenging, which agency approves or houses the information. For example, at the federal level, the drop-down menu numbers several hundred agencies from which to select.
If the response is that the information is not available or you feel the info is not correct, you can challenge it with one click and a transparency committee from that agency must evaluate your claim and respond to you within two weeks, in writing, with the six signatures of the committee’s decision.
Yes, some information is protected, such as data classified as relevant to national security, or, for example, the names of police officers will not appear, but their individual job titles and salaries will.
It is also important to remember that this access to data only applies to public officials and offices. It does NOT apply to private citizens. In fact, the INAI is charged with protecting the personal data of private citizens.
Very few countries make it so easy to obtain government info as Mexico does.