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Transparency in Mexico: Information doesn't come easily

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Eduardo Verdugo/AP

(Read caption) Members of the Federal Electoral Tribunal hold a session in Mexico City, Aug. 31. Mexico's highest electoral authority declared Friday that Enrique Pena Nieto was the legitimate winner of the country's July 1 presidential election, formally opening the transition to a new government despite continuing claims of fraud by the second-place candidate of the left and his supporters.

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A decade after Mexico created its Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), civil society has more access to information on the federal government’s activities than ever before.

President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto – whose campaign was marred by accusations of vote buying and corruption – has proposed extending transparency requirements to state and local governments. He is pushing, too, for an anti-corruption panel and a citizen-led agency to oversee government spending.

On Thursday night, Mexico’s seven-member Federal Electoral Tribunal ruled unanimously to dismiss a complaint that this summer's election was marred by fraud, clearing the way for Mr. Peña Nieto to assume the presidency on Dec. 1.

Yet the reality for members of Mexico’s civil society, journalists, or just concerned citizens? Getting basic information from the government in a timely manner can be a dogged, frustrating pursuit.

Much like in the United States, most government agencies here have a department dedicated to public and media relations; in Mexico it’s called “social communication.” Unlike in the US, however, that department often throws up barriers to retrieving information, rather than facilitating its distribution.

One secretary leads to another. And another.

There are numerous informal ways to slow the access to information, regardless of what the law says. That’s where the IFAI can step in and help – although how far that help goes is a matter of how long one is willing to wait.

In a recent case posted publicly on the IFAI website per the institute’s policy, someone asked the Mexican Navy how many people, of any rank or job type, had been dismissed for colluding with organized crime since 2006. When a Navy communications officer responded with a link to the Navy’s web page, which didn’t contain the requested information, the person asked IFAI to step in. IFAI evaluated the request and resolved that the Navy must perform an “exhaustive investigation” to provide the requested information.

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