OPEN GOVERNMENT — Mexico has a federal Freedom of Information Act, but so far it's not lived up to its authors' vision—for some special reasons, say researchers writing for the Mexican Law Review.

In "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Assessing the Implementation of Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act," authors Zachary Bookman and Juan-Pablo Guerrero-Amparán conclude:

Three key problems have presented themselves. First, federal lawmakers have violated their own constitutional reform by failing to create specialized bodies to review and resolve, independently, complaints in those branches of government not covered by the 2002 law, namely, the Mexican Congress and the judiciary. This indifference laced with a strong smell of impunity, was emulated by the constitutional agencies (Central Bank, Federal Elections Institute, Human Rights Commission) which were supposed to  create their own independent transparency regulation bodies. They, too, have not seriously acted.

Second, paradoxically, the Calderón government, which openly supported the 2007 Constitutional Reform, has proved itself less transparent than its predecessor administration. The claim of “inexistence” as an agency response to FOI petitions has mushroomed. In 2008, almost one out of every ten responses declared information to be inexistent (8,208 times), leading to a corresponding rise in IFAI complaints. In fact, this cause of complaint rose 30% per year for the past two years. Worse, IFAI’s rulings  are ignored by agencies almost without consequence, particularly, but not  solely, by the Attorney General’s Office. The pretext of national security as  a reason for classifying public information also sets a dangerous trend.
Another example of the backsliding under Calderón’s watch concerns the  denial of access, for life, to the requested 2006 election ballots.

Third, the impact of transparency and the right to know on corruption has been unimpressive. A bulky transparency apparatus has not shown a reliable reduction of corruption or a rise in accountability per se. The reasons are deeply rooted in the Mexican political system, which lacks a robust ombudsman’s office; protection for whistle-blowers; legislation against conflicts of interest; and efficient and precedential judicial administration. An FOI law alone is a blunt tool to fight corruption entrenched in the sociopolitical fabric. Like sunlight shining on a polluted puddle, transparency seems to have disclosed additional wrongdoings and corruption in Mexico without really cleaning the water.

The last year saw the addition of a worrisome development. As part of a broad reform of the Public Security system, the Mexican Congress amend- ed article 16 of the Code of Federal Penal Regulations.149 In late 2008, it re-injected a heavy dose of secrecy into affairs of the Attorney General’s office. Whereas the original FOI law put past investigations and completed inquiries into the public domain, the new legislation keeps them in the private realm of the prosecutor indefinitely when brought to court and for up to twelve years where investigators resolve not to prosecute.