Mexican Senate Moving Closer to FOI Legislation

12 November 2012

The Mexican Senate is considering significant changes to the Mexican freedom of information regime, most considered positive by FOI advocates, and getting to the stage where the specifics are being debated.

The drafting of constitutional amendments and legislation is under way behind the scenes, according to several close observers of the process. The three major political parties having all made proposals and three or four issues have emerged as the main topics under discussion.  The new president Enrique Pena Nieto committed to reform legislation, which failed to pass last year before the election under the previous administration. (See previous report.)

Another hearing will be held this week, possibly the last in a series in which a Senate committee had heard from witnesses including civil society representatives and commissioners of the Federal Institute of Access to Information, IFAI (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos).

One of the hottest topics is whether to insulate IFAI decisions from challenges by the government. This much desired reform would prevent the government from appealing IFAI decisions to the Supreme Court, a right now reserved only to citizens.

IFAI’s powers could be expanded by proposals to make it the body to hear appeals of decisions by state FOI bodies.  There is general agreement to make this change, one informed source said. A related point under discussion is whether IFAI could choose to review decisions by local bodies

To address concerns about the weakness of state FOI bodies, which were created by state law, the Senate is considering ways make them more independent, particularly by insulating them from state budget controls.

Another major point of debate concerns the appointment of IFAI commissioners. The president’s International Revolutionary Party (PRI) would like the commission to be expanded from five to seven members. As they are today, commissioners would be nominated by the president, with the Senate having the power to disapprove the nominations.

Others have proposed the creation of an expert panel to suggest qualified candidates, with the Senate having the final say by a two-thirds vote.  In 2011, the president’s candidate, eventually approved, came under criticisms for not having appropriate experience. (See previous report.)

Also being debated is whether to define the meaning of the FOI exemption or national security, and possibly other exemptions.

Whether the FOI law should cover all entities that receive government funding is up in the air, observers report.  Some feel the coverage should include all such recipients, including political parties, trade unions, universities and civil society organizations. However, a more limited list may be devised.

While several observers said there appears to be considerable ongoing effort to draft compromise legislation, IFAI President Jacqueline Peschard Mariscal recently said deliberations were “bogged down” in the Senate by the lack of consensus on how to pick commissioners and whether trade unions and political parties should be covered, according to one media report.

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