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Open Government in Mexico: a curable myopia?

Open Government, as the form of governance that seeks to deepen the role of citizens participating in public decision-making is known, is an alternative to the chronic threat to democracies.

We live in an era of democracies in agony due to their political deficits or social inadequacies. In this context, the so-called Open Government, as it is known to be the form of governance that seeks to deepen the role of citizens in participation in public decision-making, is an alternative against the gradual, chronic and degenerative extinction suffered by democracies due to populism and de facto ungovernability.

Threat to democracy

Populism is authoritarianism because it is distinguished by a “predisposition to restrict the civil liberties of the opposition, including the media,” according to the authoritative studies of Levitsky and Zibllatt that herald the death of democracies. In other words, populism enacts laws or policies that persecute criticism of the government or promote threats against critics of opposition parties, civil society or the media. In short: the key to authoritarianism is to leave citizens defenseless in terms of information so that they have no data with which to censure the government or propose solutions to their needs.

However, this is not the only obstacle imposed by authoritarian populism or the only tactic used to corrode the vigor of democracies. Institutional failures such as behaviors that foster illegality, arbitrariness, corruption, discrimination, or fuel conflicting divisions of power, also undermine democratic faith. There are also adverse fiscal structures such as an unequal tax status quo, inefficient tax administration in the face of evasion or inefficient resource allocation, which undermine the operational credibility of elected regimes. Two other failures complete the context of problems. Administrative shortcomings (poor regulatory quality, confusing and redundant command and work structure, intra and intergovernmental fragmentation) and political shortcomings (conflictive relations between the government and the opposition, business and civil organizations, low credibility discourse, lack of representativeness).

Avoiding the difficulties mentioned above requires government openness. In other words, data, management and the respective public account must be accessible and clear, without gibberish that prevents verifying that the government is exercised within the canons of legality and administrative regulation. This includes that citizens can reuse the data to submit proposals to solve social difficulties. Thus, the idea of Open Government provides legitimacy, the possibility of elaborating consensual public policies and taking advantage of data, experience and political will to correct deviations or errors in governance. It is based on three pillars: accountability, transparency and the effective incorporation of citizen participation.

United Nations proposal

As Open Government is desirable, the UN proposed to the heads of state to realize an Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the General Assembly in July 2011. The idea took shape from the echoes of previous initiatives by Obama and Dilma Rouseff of Brazil. Thus, since September 20, 2011, the General Assembly of Nations agreed to formulate the Open Government Partnership [OGP]. The founding nations of the Partnership were Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mexico, since the founding of the Alliance, has been involved in the elaboration of four Open Government Action Plans (from 2011 to 2013, from 2013 to 2015, from 2016 to 2018 and from 2019 to 2021/22). In addition, it participated in the Alliance during the period from 2014 to 2015 exercising the presidency of said international organization at the investiture of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Yet the Alliance was born short-sighted and politicians stumbled by walking blind to the citizenry and delving into their own traps. The Open Government Partnership is a partnership between governments, not between rulers and citizens. The openness of the Alliance has not made the government house a transparent house, but a bastion of mirrors where information is reflected, biased and fragmented between the oblique walls of an endogenous bureaucracy that sinks in opacity. And the above, still apart from the arbitrariness of classifying information as “reserved” with pretexts to which the crafty interpretation of the law lends itself, or not to mention the cynical maxim of “I have other data”.

A failed plan

Despite the good intentions and positive credentials associated with such an initiative, the representation of Mexican citizens was biased in the Alliance. This is because in the Open Government Action Plans the voice of the citizenry was reduced and domesticated to a few civil society organizations nested in the Tripartite Technical Secretariat of the institutionalized Alliance. Many civil organizations were excluded, citizens not belonging to civil organizations were and still are totally ignored. The citizenry cannot propose its problems, since it is only consulted under the selection of certain themes in a time window established in advance by the state vision. In other words, it is not possible to bring citizen issues to the surface, nor is there any “bottom-up” prioritization.

More recently, other difficulties were added to the quality and genuineness of the initiative: the few civil society organizations self-excluded themselves because some of their members were spied on and digitally surveilled by the Mexican federal government during the period 2016 to 2018. Finally, to top off the poor official performance on an idea that could improve democratic quality, the government desisted in 2022 from developing an Open Government Action Plan. And that situation extends to the present. The National Institute of Access to Information (INAI) is unable to build the Action Plan due to serious governmental conflict: the commissioners that should integrate the INAI were not assigned in time and form.

Although the Senate of the Republic appointed two commissioners on March 1, 2023 to replace those whose terms were expiring, the presidential veto to this action led to consequent injunctions, suspensions, appeals and a long series of pleadings that will not end until the majority required for such appointments in the Senate of the Republic is satisfied. During 2023, no consensus was reached on any of the proposals to appoint the commissioners.

The power struggle for Open Government data shows the importance of open data and its reuse in Action Plans. However, despite having been born with a myopic Alliance, Open Government in Mexico can become an option against democratic regressions as long as it incorporates effective citizen participation to diagnose priority problems and take real solutions.

*Text presented in the framework of the agreement between WAPOR Latin America and Revista Mexicana de Opinión Pública.

*Translated from Spanish by Micaela Machado Rodrigues


Doctor en filosofía por la Universidad Iberoamericana (México) y profesor en la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (México)



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