AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Mexican lawmakers have approved a new anti-corruption law that some experts think could become a new model for Latin America’s inefficient and ineffective system of appointing czars and creating ad-hoc agencies to deal with endemic graft.

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The law comes after a series of alleged corruption scandals rocked President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, further rattling public confidence in government officials. A recent poll by Mexican consulting firms GEA and ISA showed that the perception of government corruption is a growing concern among ordinary Mexicans, with more than 50 percent saying they believe Peña Nieto has failed to do enough to put things in order.

Peña Nieto’s response is now taking shape as an ambitious reform that seeks to strengthen anti-corruption agencies at the federal, state and municipal levels. It will require public officials to identify potential conflicts of interest when they disclose their assets, create a new federal court and other autonomous institutions to investigate public officials, and increase accountability over how public funds are spent.

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It's not exactly sexy stuff, but it could be extremely important to the future of Mexico and the region.

“There hasn’t been a reform like this in 45 years,” said Eduardo Bohorquez, director of Transparency International’s Mexico branch. He thinks the law —a long-term effort that might take years to show results—could become a new model for other Latin American countries to follow.

“The anti-corruption czar model has not worked in Mexico and Latin America,” Bohorquez told Fusion. “Mexico is separating itself from the Latin American herd and is attempting a new formula that politically resembles the systems in countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Australia.”

Javier Vega, the director of foreign affairs for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), called the law a “cutting-edge proposal.” He said his party is exchanging information with Asian, African and Latin American countries on better government practices, actions and mechanisms.

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Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer writes the law is “a new approach that may be worth trying,” since “government-appointed anti-corruption czars or anti-corruption agencies have not worked in most Latin American countries.”

Critics, however, point out that the president is still untouchable. The new law does nothing to eliminate the presidential immunity, meaning Mexico's president cannot be investigated or impeached.

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And there are also serious questions about how the law will be implemented and enforced.

But for now, it's an important first step.

“Culture is changed by changing the rules in which it operates,” Bohorquez said.

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