Corruption Zero

Saúl Zenteno-Bueno is the Global Focal Point on Financing for Development at the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth. He is a Professor in the Social Sciences and Humanities Division at Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Chiapas. His experience at the UN includes active engagement in intergovernmental processes related to development and Expert Group Meetings focused on Stakeholder Engagement and the Sustainable Development Goal 17. His field experience covers youth empowerment and social entrepreneurship, disaster response, the Central American migratory crisis, and the Colombian armed conflict. He is a former member of the Kybernus Peace Culture Network and a former Liaison of the Kybernus Collective in Chiapas. He currently serves as a member of the City Planning and Citizen Council boards. He can be reached at:

Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico | June 8, 2020 | Opinion Article

In-between the rainy forest El Ocote and the lower jungle close to the Southern border of Mexico, lies an urban area. This area, slightly bigger than Dresden and surrounded by spectacular nature, is the heart of one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica: Tuxtla Gutiérrez. It is lesser-known for its severe corruption machinery, which has harmed the life of millions. The problem is rooted in the high-heels-clicking halls of its governmental buildings: the Congress, the Judicial Court, and the Government House. Within the darkness consuming this region, a new project, funded by the German Agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), gives a new hope: “Corruption Zero”.

National Anticorruption System

The eyes of the world turned to Mexico in 2017 as the National Anticorruption System (SNA) entered into force. It is a group of institutions responsible for the design and implementation of counter-corruption policies. Although a coordinating committee functioning as a board-like body might not be the most innovative idea, its Citizen Participation Committee certainly is. Mandated to function as the bridge between the SNA and civil society, the President of the Citizen Participation Committee serves as the President of the broader system.

Citizens play the leading role in the fight against corruption

Naturally, as the SNA diversified and established local committees in the 32 States that compose the Mexican Federation, the road became blocked quickly by personal interests and power. Chiapas is a state with the historical structure of centralized decision governance. It consists of a fully-dependent and obliging Local Congress that serves as a check to its governors’ will, and a Judicial Court that is rumored to be prone towards favoritism, extrajudicial disappearances and torture. Both bodies have spearheaded the resistance to the installation of the SNA, along with the nation’s capital: Mexico City.

For example, its Congress called for the Constitution of the Selection Committee to select the Citizens Participation Committee members. With several problems on the way and severe corruption scandals evolving around public fund diversions during the last Administration, the implementation of the Citizens Participation Committee took place three years after the SNA entered into force. People in power, however, are prone to abuse it, using as many resources as possible to block any transparency, vigilance and accountability efforts. This is largely due to the highly unequal and impoverished society that is surrounded by rich and megadiverse tropical forests and jungles that connect to Central America and thus serving as entry points not only for refugees fleeing from humanitarian catastrophes but also for transnational criminal networks related to drugs, human smuggling and species trafficking.

The Civil Society’s Fight Against Corruption

Corruption Zero developed after the civil society organization Ligalab learned that civic engagement in such a context is hard. Ranging from facing blockades to state violence in the form of directed communication campaigns against it and its closest allies, Ligalab learned that power needs to be confronted and looked at directly in its eyes. Corruption Zero serves as a project with two objectives. First, it seeks to build capacities for civil society organizations and grassroots movements that focus on areas such as the preservation of traditions and monuments, gender and feminism, environmental safeguarding, education, and civic engagement. The second objective is to build a common front, alongside with some of the most active organizations in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Comitán, and San Cristobal de las Casas. Together they want to fight against corruption: Confronting power while protecting peoples’ lives and jobs. Their Advocacy School is the bridge between these two objectives and seeks to develop a joint plan to proceed working together.

Brianda Aguilar, Carmen Villa, Enriqueta Burelo, and Alma Ortiz are leading the overall project and are all members of Ligalab. Corruption Zero’s Manager, Brianda, thinks that establishing the Local Body of the SNA is critical in order to build an initial front to hold authorities accountable. Yet, she explains, the work of Ligalab, co-founded by Carmen Villa, has also led to disputes with the Local Congress about the slippery road that led to it. Ligalab was one of the very few entities that followed up on the corruption mechanism’s installation. It spearheaded several different initiatives such as a Citizen Council to the Local Townhall and a Council on state violence and crime indicators. Ligalab’s difficulties show that both civil society and public officers lack the resources needed to fight against corruption. Knowledge, funds, and the time to engage in volunteer activities are thus the crucial elements that need the immediate attention of people, who are keen to facilitate transparency efforts. Thus, Corruption Zero’s design and implementation is based on this holistic approach. It is fully aware of the long road ahead, yet the GIZ’s support serves as a catalyzer to a much-needed seed in this difficult context. Along with over 90 projects, Corruption Zero emerged as one of the six initiatives that shape the relations between Mexican civil society and Germany, leading towards greater transparent governance.

More information on Ligalab can be found here:

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