12/30/13 (written by cmolzahn) — After more than a year of debate, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies gave its approval to a new federal transparency law, clearing the way for its final passage in the state congresses. The bill had been passed between the lower house and the Senate a number of times, with the biggest sticking point regarding which federal agencies would have the authority to challenge decisions made by the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Protection of Data (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, IFAI).
The law amends four articles of the Mexican constitution and will make public all information in the possession of government agencies, trusteeships, and public funds. The measure will require any individual, business, unions, or any other organization receiving public funds to disclose their finances and expenditures, with exceptions only being made when it is determined that revealing the requested information would be detrimental to national security. This was a main point of contention among lawmakers, and it was eventually decided that only the president’s legal counsel would have the authority to challenge the IFAI’s decisions before Mexico’s Supreme Court. The original Senate proposal additionally allowed the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), the governor of the Bank of Mexico, and the president of the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) to challenge IFAI’s decisions, but months of congressional negotiations eliminated these exemptions. Nevertheless, some transparency advocates maintain that any potential for challenging and/or delaying IFAI’s decisions compromise the agency’s newly established autonomy.
The constitutional reforms establish the IFAI as an autonomous body, a development that transparency advocates have long called for. It also extends to the states and the Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF), requiring them to amend their own constitutions to allow more power to their groups responsible for promoting transparency and access to information. Several current and former state governments have come under fire in recent months for the opacity with which they conduct their financial activities, and for accumulating massive state debt with little oversight or repercussions. These new reforms hope to standardize criteria and procedures for information requests directed at state and municipal governments.
Moreover, the number of IFAI commissioners will increase from five to seven, and will be appointed by Senate vote with the possibility of a presidential challenge, the inverse of the current procedure for selecting commissioners. Transparency advocates hope that this change will increase the likelihood of appointing commissioners free from political influence. The acting commissioners will also be given an opportunity for ratification in the Senate for appointment to be part of the new autonomous IFAI after the law is signed by the president following the required approval in at least 16 of Mexico’s state congresses. The remaining two commissioners are scheduled for appointment within 90 days of the law’s signing.