Photo: Red John/Unsplash

By MARK LORENZANA

The Federal Roads and Bridges and Related Services (CAPUFE), a federal government agency in Mexico that operates and maintains federally owned roads and bridges, has found irregularities amounting to almost 40 million pesos related to toll collection on the Chamapa-Lechería highway in 2021.

The audit has yet to be completed, so full details have not been released, but on May 24, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) acknowledged that there have been anomalies in the collections as reported by the CAPUFE.

“I asked Elsa Veites (general director of the CAPUFE) for the report again, and the truth is that she convinced me that there was corruption in the toll booths — not in all of them. She presented me with evidence that they were charging for toll fees, but the money was not coming in. And she showed me that after changes in personnel, CAPUFE’s income increased considerably,” AMLO said, while justifying the dismissal of the CAPUFE employees allegedly involved in the anomalies.

Another reported irregularity are failures in printing equipment installed in the toll booths, for which CAPUFE did not impose a maintenance service penalty on the supplier — in this case, SIMEX Systems Integration — a penalty that was agreed upon by both parties, which would have amounted to 20.5 million pesos.

In the first quarter of this year, the Internal Control Body (OIC) carried out four audits in different areas of CAPUFE’s jurisdiction, and found irregularities in all of them. Among the findings were uninstalled, non-operational, missing and damaged equipment.

The Chamapa-Lechería highway is a four-lane road that runs for 36 kilometers and crosses west to the Valley of Mexico, a highlands plateau in central Mexico roughly coterminous with present-day Mexico City and the eastern half of the State of Mexico (EdoMéx). Nearly 100,000 vehicles travel on the highway daily, and it has an annual income of about 800 million pesos.

The irregularities in toll collection on the Chamapa-Lechería highway is far from the only issue hounding toll collection and toll booths in Mexico. Another constant problem is the unlawful seizure of toll booths throughout the country by informal groups of protesters, who hijack these booths and proceed to demand “donations” from motorists.

In Feb. 5 of this year, for instance, a group of students from Mexico’s Ayotzinapa Normal College, in the coastal state of Guerrero, launched a trailer truck with no brakes at members of the National Guard (GN) after the GN tried to prevent them from taking control of a toll booth along the Autopista del Sol Mexico City-Acapulco highway.

Before the incident, the students had for months taken over the toll booth each weekend to extort money from motorists. After authorities tried to prevent the group from storming the booth, its members responded by aiming a hijacked truck with the accelerator forced down with rocks in the direction of the National Guard officers, resulting in 21 officers being injured.

Two weeks after the incident, AMLO said that he will “pay” those who hijack the booths to allow motorists to pass, thus essentially offering to pay off the extortion for motorists.

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