Photo: Christin Hume/Unsplash

By MARK LORENZANA

Anticorruption and transparency groups, business and political organizations, journalists and concerned individuals in Mexico have all called on the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to restore the public-information system CompraNet, which has been “temporarily suspended” since Friday, July 15.

CompraNet is an information system in Mexico through which citizens can openly search about purchases made with federal government resources at a national level. The CompraNet website was established in 1996 to make government procurements more transparent by making it possible for anyone to scrutinize the expenditure of the presidential office. The system has been recognized by international organizations for its transparency best practices, including the United Nations (UN).

When the six-year term of López Obrador began, the platform was passed on from the Public Function Secretariat (SFP), the agency in charge of curbing corruption, to the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP). A brief statement was released by the SHCP on Monday, July 18, which said that CompraNet was “temporarily suspended due to technical failures” brought about by “foreign causes.”

On Monday, July 25, the Mexican Employers’ Confederation (Coparmex) said in a statement that “a technical failure should not be justification for failing to comply with government transparency.” Coparmex also demanded that the SHCP “immediately resolve the problem that caused the platform to be disabled” because “it is urgent that it be made fully operational as soon as possible.” The statement also said that the suspension of CompraNet “opens the door to opacity and corruption.”

The SHCP should also present a report, as soon as possible, detailing the reasons why the CompraNet platform was temporarily suspended, said representatives of Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) on Sunday, July 24, in the Chamber of Deputies, “in order to provide legal certainty to users.”

PAN Deputy Héctor Saúl Téllez Hernández said that it is not enough for the SHCP to publish a short advisory, and should instead propose a date, as soon as possible, to reactivate the platform, since “it is an obligation to guarantee access to information on all government contracts.”

Téllez Hernández also said that in the 26 years of its existence, the CompraNet portal has not been suspended even once — aside from brief periods of website maintenance or updates.

“This temporary suspension is suspicious,” Téllez Hernández said. “It is a sign of the opacity of this government that is committed to restricting access to the information offered by the platform.”

For her part, Fernanda Avendaño, anticorruption coordinator of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), said that CompraNet is not only a repository of information about public contracts, but also a transactional tool where proposals and results of the procedures are presented.

“CompraNet is the most important portal for federal public purchases in the country, and it stores more than 260 federal institutions that make purchases,” Avendaño said. “If the platform does not work, then it is practically impossible for users, the providers themselves and institutions to monitor any type of government transaction, which should be transparent.”

Critics have accused the López Obrador government of lack of transparency, and this recent problem with CompraNet will certainly add fuel to the fire. In his column for Mexican daily newspaper El Economista, economic and financial analyst Dario Celis wrote that eight of 10 government contracts under the AMLO administration are awarded outright without any bidding or competition.

Celis also wrote that “it is suspicious that CompraNet has collapsed just when onerous purchases are expected for the Tren Maya project, destined to triple its initial investment if it is to be inaugurated in December 2023.”

More than 400 contracts are traded daily on CompraNet, which would mean expenses of almost 3 million pesos per minute.

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