Corruption affects a country’s delivery of public services, economic growth, perception of legality, and social fabric. Although in its multiple forms corruption is present in every country, in some countries it has larger and more dangerous repercussions than in others. The scale of corruption in Mexico is asphyxiating: 9% of GDP, according to the World Bank. In 2010, according to Transparencia Mexicana, an average household in Mexico spent 14% of its revenue on bribes. Ghost schools in Mexico –public schools that don’t exist but that are registered and receive public funding — have a monthly cost to citizens of over $19 million.
Using crowdsourcing to fight corruption
Last year two civil society organizations – Transparencia Mexicana and the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) – created a crowdsourcing platform, named #3de3 (#3of3), to mobilize citizens to ask their representatives to publish three declarations. First, representatives and civil servants are asked to declare their assets: a declaration of income and properties before and during their public appointment. With this information, citizens can verify that civil servants are not obtaining personal gains from the power entrusted in them. Secondly, they must declare potential conflicts of interest: a declaration of financial and economic interests that sprout from professional or entrepreneurial activities. This declaration, which is mandatory in some countries, gained impetus in the Mexican public agenda thanks to #3de3. Thirdly, they must declare their payment of taxes, by providing proof of the annual payment of taxes for the last three years. Even though it would seem logical that public officials are up to date in the payment of their taxes, without such a declaration there is no way for citizens to verify this. If citizens have access to these declarations, they would have valuable information to make their representatives accountable. Last year elections in Mexico served as a catalyst to incentivize citizens and candidates to participate in the movement #3de3. Despite broad citizen participation in the platform, a minority of candidates and public officials answered this citizen petition and published the three declarations.
Ley 3 de 3 (Law 3 of 3)
Thanks to a 2014 constitutional reform, Mexican citizens can now propose legislative changes if they obtain the support of 0.13 % of registered electors. The citizen initiative of law 3de3 seeks to make use of this constitutional right to propose a piece of legislation drafted specifically to fight corruption. Ley3de3 is a general law of administrative responsibilities and is one of two pieces of legislation needed to implement the constitutional reform of anti-corruption approved last year. A group of Mexican citizens took on the task of creating this proposal with the objective of incorporating in the legislation elements that limit public officials’ power and include citizens in the fight against corruption.
This legal initiative seeks to prevent, sanction and correct cases of corruption. Ley3de3 recognizes citizen participation mechanisms as a legal tool to fight corruption and the need to protect whistleblowers. The law also defines and identifies 10 different types of corruption that constitute serious administrative offenses. It enlarges the list of those who can be involved in cases of corruption to include transitioning political groups, individuals and companies. Finally, it proposes making mandatory the publication of the 3 declarations discussed above.
CrowdLaw, or the use of crowdsourcing for legislative drafting and constitution writing, is acquiring more relevance each day in a growing number of countries. Several platforms and projects have been created in the past couple of years to involve citizens directly in the law and policy-making processes. Crowdsourcing can be used in several stages of the drafting of legislation, with diverse participation from citizens, having as a result multiple outcomes. Such projects could be initiated by government, civil society organizations, or groups of citizens who decide to organize around an important topic of interest.
The case of the Ley3de3 is an exciting example of a citizen petition platform that seeks to set the agenda for congress. It asks Mexican citizens to support the law by signing a petition and promoting the project in social media and among their acquaintances. Although citizens were involved in the process of drafting this proposal — three lawyers were involved in writing the legislative text, and academics and civil society experts were consulted about the elements that this legislation should incorporate — in other countries citizens play a more direct role in drafting legislation throughout the policymaking process.
So what works and what doesn’t in CrowdLaw? And how can we adapt the learnings from CrowdLaw in other countries with different levels of civic engagement and internet connectivity? There are no easy answers to these questions, but as we continue to learn from these projects, we can start formulating a series of recommendations that could be applied to any CrowdLaw project.
Experience from the Ley3de3 project offers the following recommendations for every CrowdLaw project:
- Give citizens a specific and defined task;
- Upload the current or draft legislation that needs to be discussed or signed;
- Establish and publicize specific timeframes and deadlines for citizen participation;
- Diversify the channels of communication;
- Offer both online engagement and face-to-face meetings;
- Use traditional media (radio, television and newspapers) to promote the initiative;
- Obtain the support of legislators sympathetic to your project.
The Ley3de3 project lacks the capacity to accept signatures or citizen comments on the draft directly through the internet platform. Currently, Mexican law requires that signatures in support of a citizen initiative project must be handwritten but congress should consider ways to collect electronic signatures through platforms that contain personal identification programs to verify the identity of the signer, while retaining the option of signing by hand. In countries like Mexico, where internet connectivity is still low (49.3 percent internet penetration), having both options bridges the gap of digital connectivity and lowers the barrier for civic engagement, providing citizens with an easy channel for participation in this type of project and increasing the incentive to participate.
The citizen initiative law proposal required 120,000 signatures from Mexican citizens to be discussed in Congress. It surpassed this goal by gathering more than 300,000 signatures and now citizens await for an open and transparent discussion in Congress. To learn more about Ley3de3 and keep posted about its developments, visit this webpage (in Spanish). To find out more about CrowdLaw, visit this page of the GovLab dedicated to the topic.