Mexico Senate kills 109 government disaster, science funds
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party pushed legislation through the Senate on Wednesday to eliminate 109 semi-independent government trust funds that finance everything from science to movie productions to disaster relief.
In a party-line vote, the Senate voted to end the trusts and have the government directly administer the money. The vote and debates were held at an alternative site after protesters blockaded the Senate building.
The lower house already approved the bill and the president is certain to sign it into law over widespread objections from academics, rights groups and state governors.
Opponents depict the move as a power and money grab that could hurt scientists, athletes and vulnerable groups by making funding dependent on yearly budget appropriations. López Obrador says the funds are wasteful and lack oversight, and he accuses the critics of “defending corruption.”
Opposition parties and civic groups say the funds’ independence was precisely their value. They charge that with the changes, all the projects will have to rely on annual budget votes, an arrangement that could make them more dependent on the president or political whims.
The issue has sparked more heated debate than any of López Obrador’s initiatives since he took office almost two years ago.
Together the funds manage more than $3.2 billion in government funds for research, health, sports and education projects, including one that finances protection for threatened journalists. Critics of the plan claim the administration wants the money to fill current spending needs.
López Obrador and his party say funding for those projects is assured.
The president is known for his personal austerity and his hatred of waste, but he has also been accused of building too much personal control of government and of disdaining checks and balances, civic groups and other limits on his power.
López Obrador said there are “trusts for everything, with bureaucracies where in many cases the money is spent, the funds do not get to the people.”
He cited examples of what he called waste and malfeasance under his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, from 2012 to 2018. López Obrador said the funds piled up $25 million in administrative costs and funded questionable projects like 45 buildings that remain partially or totally empty. Nor were the funds equitable: Some research funds sent 40% of their money to 1% of all participating researchers, he said.
After the trusts are eliminated, he said, his administration will “gather all these funds and hand them out, nobody would lose funding.”