Mexicans always rank among the happiest and the most optimistic populations. No matter what happens, when compared against more developed countries, Mexico ranks above average in terms of general satisfaction with life. But some of us living in Mexico aren’t represented by these statistics and are more skeptical. Much of this skepticism is due to the ongoing feeling of insecurity, lawlessness, and impunity within the country. The front pages of newspapers are filled with news of increased disappearances and violence in states that are already overcome by organized crime, reports on criminal organizations now active in areas of Mexico City that were previously considered safe havens from the violence occurring throughout the rest of the country, and instances of corruption and impunity that are openly documented and proven, and yet never result in anyone being held accountable.
Within this context, the Mexico Peace Index, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, offers something of a lifesaver when the feeling of drowning in never ending pessimism is overwhelming. The report defines positive peace as “…the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies,” offering a certain light at the end of the tunnel by focusing on potential and what might occur in the future. Within this context, Mexico scores highly: it has the second largest Positive Peace surplus in the world, indicating that it has the necessary structures and resources to reduce its levels of violence in the future.
Various factors help determine the surplus, from a sound business environment and equitable distribution of resources, to high levels of human capital and good relations with neighbors. My attention was drawn in particular to one of the indicators where Mexico is the weakest: well-functioning government. Most specifically, how the country manages the resources dedicated to domestic security.
Although there has been a 105% increase since 2006, Mexico still dedicates a relatively low percentage of public spending to domestic security (1.5%) in comparison to the OECD average (4.7%), and slightly less than the United States of America (1.6%). Upon analysis, it might actually be better if Mexican security spending stops increasing to avoid compounding the issues and errors that permeate the spending system.
A clear example of these issues can be found in the transfer of domestic security funds from the federal to the state and municipal level. Resources managed on a local level face a variety of barriers that impact the transparency and effectiveness of how they are used. The Auditoría Superior de la Federación, the federal auditing authority, has carried out more than 500 audits and made 5,117 recommendations of various types. The processes for the allocation of resources are critiqued not only because of their general unresponsiveness, but also because of the lack of public information regarding the details of the processes. Without this information, one might come to the conclusion that these resources are allocated in line with political purposes rather than technical ones.
Additionally, resources continue to be distributed by the government primarily via direct award procurement processes rather than open bidding, based on the argument that an open bidding process presents a security issue. This situation is aggravated by a lack of control mechanisms, as well as the fact that various executing agencies lack supporting documentation for their expenses, in addition to the oversight systems necessary to generate financial reports and maintain the appropriate accounting records. These issues make it even more difficult to determine where the resources end up.
The list of issues noted in these audits is long, and includes serious inefficiencies caused by a lack of the skills necessary to create adequate needs assessments, spending and execution reports, results and impact indicators and measurements, and assessments of compliance with stated objectives and goals.
Additionally, although the current administration’s political narrative emphasizes its focus on secondary prevention, the reality is very different. The National Crime Prevention Program (PRONAPRED) manages a budget of $2.5 billion Mexican pesos, however, according to government records, the resources allocated to crime prevention measures totaled $132.6 billion Mexican pesos.
A detailed analysis of this second figure shows that some of the activities included within it are not directly tied to crime prevention. For example, this total includes resources earmarked for a program dedicated to comprehensive care for victims of high-impact crimes, implying that intervention in fact occurs after a crime has already been committed. Additionally, there are various programs whose connection to crime prevention is murky, including programs to support public service and good governance. Finally, it is unclear whether or not the activities included in this total were planned and designed for crime prevention, or in fact were pre-existing federal agency programs that were simply shuffled around and relabeled as a crime prevention expense.
The Mexican government is ineffective in its domestic security spending and engages in a grandiose rhetoric based on inflated figures and a distorted representation of spending priorities. Considering this, is it possible to be an optimist and imagine a future with potential for positive peace? Of course it is. Within a complex system based on so many external factors that impact peace, this is precisely the type of variable that can be controlled with political will and a lot of pressure from civil society and the media.
About the author: José Luis Chicoma is the Executive Director of Ethos Public Policy Lab.