A City without Laws
By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
The crisis with Mexico City’s Superior Court of Justice is a surging problem which, in addition to leading to a serious traffic jam, could lead to a reduction in private investment, economic decline, higher unemployment in a city with already too few jobs and ungovernability in the country’s capital. It could also derail Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum’s presidential aspirations.
It took three days of work stoppage and public protests by the capital’s judicial employees demanding payment of overdue salaries (in Mexico, the Christmas bonus is considered an integral part of a worker’s salary), for the presiding magistrate, Rafael Guerra, to finally come up with the financial resources necessary to fulfill his employer obligation.
The Mexico City Judiciary oversees legal disputes of all kinds: civil, commercial, criminal and labor. Three days without the administration of justice may seem like a minor setback, but in addition to the thousands of workers and families affected by the non-payment of wages, there was the immediate economic damage, due to the delay, for all the individuals involved in lawsuits at the time.
It also left those being held in jail awaiting trial or charges in legal limbo. These people are victims of a system that does not respect the concept of innocence until proven otherwise, and are imprisoned under an unconstitutional and abusive concept of “preventive detention” that violates their basic human rights. Their postponed hearings made the situation worse.
Moreover, private investors are not keen to put their money into a city that is devoid of an acceptably functioning court where they can go to demand justice in the event of noncompliance by one of the many contracting parties with whom they must do business. Having a dysfunctional judicial administration in the form of courts that don’t work for whatever reason — such as not paying their employees — ends up impoverishing a city because it mars the business climate.
The administration of justice is a government function, and the courts have a value for the stability, governability and growth of a city, which today no one in the Mexico City government seems to understand. Imperfect though it may be, the Mexico City Superior Court of Justice is essential to the operation of the capital.
Responding that court workers have no reason to protest, since their salaries are guaranteed, is the worst statement that Sheinbaum could have made to a situation that, whether she likes it or not, is the result of her own bad governance. Workers’ wages of any worker must not be guaranteed, they must be paid on time and in due form, without a single day of delay.
A lack of financial resources to function is obviously a serious problem that the Superior Court is facing. The institution has been suffering from a lack of cash for at least two years. Its workers reported that in December 2020 the payment of grocery vouchers that they have as a benefit (as part of their salary) was withheld from them, and in 2021, the same thing was about to happen, but the threat of another work stoppage prevented that from happening.
Mexico is the 15th-largest economy in the world, and Mexico City is one of the world’s megacities, as well as being the one with the greatest contributor to the national GDP. It is simply inconceivable that its judiciary does not have enough money to cover the salaries of its workers.
The cause of this budgetary insufficiency is, of course, the unknown yet to be resolved. So far, there are two versions as to the root of the problem: municipal budget cuts ordered by Sheinbaum and executed by the Mexico City Congress in open violation of the supposed autonomy of the Judiciary, and bad financial management in the administration of the budget. The real cause is probably a combination of both of these.
Regardless of why this happened, it is imperative that all government workers be given their rightful financial compensation, on time and in full, in order to sustain the creditability of that government.
The Mexico City judicial workers did finally receive their Christmas bonuses, four days late, but the city’s government’s image, and that of Sheinbaum herself, have been tarnished by this scandal. And that is something that may end up to be very costly indeed.