Fall of INAI Means Demise of Transparency in Mexico

Photo: INAI


Mexico’s National Institute for Transparency Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (INAI) has been all over the news lately — but for the wrong reasons which, unfortunately, could point to its impending demise.

According to a Sunday, April 2, report by Mexico City-based Proceso magazine, “despite last-minute attempts to save the situation, the plenary session of the INAI will not be able to meet for an indefinite period of time, as a result of the obstacles put up by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and the Mexican Senate to block the appointment of three INAI directors.”

With the INAI out of commission, the Mexican federal government of López Obrador “leaves the accountability system in the hands of the administration itself – via the Public Function Secretariat (SFP) and the Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF),” said the Proceso report. The article went on to criticize both the SFP and the ASF, saying that they had been slow to process complaints and act on requests for government transparency.

The INAI is an autonomous constitutional body in Mexico in charge of two fundamental rights: access to public information — in other words, government transparency — and protection of Mexican citizens’ personal data. Its functions include making available to the public all government data, and to ensure that any registration process or administrative, civil and economic documentation adheres to the principles that safeguard the identities of beneficiaries.

Established in May 2014, the INAI replaced the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI).

The agency, however, has not exactly endeared itself to López Obrador — for better or worse.

For more than two years now, AMLO has expressed his intention to dissolve the INAI — basically to eliminate independent organizations by “absorbing them into the government.” López Obrador said he believes that these independent organizations — chief among them the INAI — are “expensive legacies of neoliberal governments.”

AMLO, in particular, wants to incorporate the INAI into either the SFP or the ASF. According to a plan that the president outlined in January 2021, “the powers of the INAI would fall under the SFP or the ASF,” with the promise that “requests for information would be answered within a maximum period of 72 hours.”

However, López Obrador’s own government has been particularly reluctant to release information under the current system of “transparency.” According to an INAI annual report, of the requests for information received between October 2021 and September 2022, most of the time government agencies declared that information “was not available” and, in some cases, said that “the information was already made public,” even though that wasn’t the case.

Still according to the Proceso report, “throughout the first four years of the (AMLO) administration, examples of absurd responses from government agencies to requests for information abounded: the Office of the Presidency of the Republic itself would usually respond that, after an exhaustive search in its files, it did not find the information requested – sometimes on issues in which López Obrador himself said he had data and documents. Other government bodies, for example — such as the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) — usually invoke ‘national security’ to get away with not providing information.”

As early as March 1, the INAI had filed a constitutional controversy in the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) against López Obrador’s refusal to appoint commissioners to complete the agency’s plenary session.

“The institutional design established by the Constitution for the integration of the plenary of this autonomous body is directly violated, thereby violating the principle of collegiality that characterizes it,” said the INAI appeal.

On Friday, March 31, the INAI finally lost its quorum after the departure of Francisco Acuña, one of its commissioners, who concluded his nine-year term on Friday.

In his farewell message, Acuña rejected the idea that a “golden bureaucracy” exists at the INAI and defended the importance of a national transparency system, saying that “without information, there is no nation.”

A day before the INAI lost its quorum and its remaining commissioners (four out of seven commissioners) failed to meet in a plenary session, opposition parties in the Mexican Senate – in particular, Germán Martínez of the Plural Group — accused Ricardo Monreal, leader of AMLO’s very own leftist ruling National Regeneration Movement (Morena) majority bloc in the Senate, of chicanery.

According to a Thursday, March 30, report by Mexican daily newspaper Reforma, “a few hours after taking their Easter vacation, the senators have not yet agreed to select directors of the INAI,” which directly led to the loss of its quorum.

“They do not want transparency, which is a shame,” said Martínez.

Monreal, for his part, immediately denied the accusations.

“I have not resorted to any chicanery. I am an honorable man, and I do not accept these accusations,” said Monreal.

At that time, however, the Morena senator admitted that the INAI could enter a crisis if the Senate failed to appoint commissioners. That crisis has, unfortunately, arrived for the agency.

In January 2021, when López Obrador called for the reformation of the INAI, he criticized the agency, saying that “it was created for transparency, but there has been no transparency,” thus necessitating its reform.

AMLO also said that the INAI had “previously hidden public documents, such as materials showing the cancellation of taxes for large companies during the administration of (former Mexican President) Vicente Fox.”

He likewise mentioned that “the INAI costs Mexico one billion pesos for maintenance a year,” funds that, at that time, López Obrador said he “would rather allocate to social programs and covid-19 recovery.”

All these years, critics have raised concerns about the elimination of the independent agency as being a violation of human rights.

For its part, the INAI — in a last-gasp attempt at fulfilling its duties prior to running out of a quorum to meet as a plenary due to the lack of directors — approved in a session the filing of a constitutional controversy against López Obrador’s Plan B electoral reform before the SCJN, saying that “it violates transparency and data protection.”

In the same session, the INAI also ordered the Mexican Food System (Segalmex) “to make transparent the purchase of stock certificates in 2020 and 2021, of which Segalmex reported that 850 million pesos have been recovered in 2020 and 100 million in 2021.”

“We request the documentation that proves the recovery of 100 percent of the resources that went to tax certificates during 2020 and 2021,” said the INAI.

Likewise, the INAI plenary unanimously approved a review appeal ordering the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to make public the thesis and university degree of López Obrador.

Still, it remains to be seen when the next INAI plenary will take place — if ever — or if López Obrador has finally succeeded in getting rid of Mexico’s independent transparency organization.

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