On March 11, the Supreme Court unanimously decided to grant the petition for injunction (“amparo” or writ of protection) of Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) Civil Organization which would require the Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF for its initials in Spanish) to not limit itself to pointing out cases of budgetary malfeasance. The Supreme Court instructed the ASF to identify responsible persons and initiate criminal proceedings against them in cases related to fraud of over 10 billion pesos a year in the federal education budgets for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The ruling overturns an earlier lower court decision which threw out the petition on grounds that Mexicanos Primero had no “legitimate interest” in these cases of fraud, since they did not directly affect the organization. The current ruling sets an important precedent that a civil organization can file for an injunction to gain relief from governmental action or failure to act on issues directly related to the social objective(s) of the organization.
What cases of budgetary fraud must be punished? Many are related to payments to “teachers” that appeared on the payroll but not in their assigned schools. These were similar to many cases uncovered by the educational census of 2013. Although the census could not be carried out in Oaxaca, Michoacan or Guerrero due to opposition by the dissident CNTE teachers’ union, in the rest of the states it found that practically one fourth of the teacher payroll, approximately 300 thousand people, were being paid as teachers without working as such.
Why was the injunction filed against the Superior Audit of the Federation? The ASF uncovered and pointed out these irregularities in the administration of the Fund for Contributions to Basic Level Education and Teachers’ Colleges (FAEB for its initials in Spanish), but did not directly identify the responsible public officials nor initiate legal action against them. When questioned about this lack of follow through, an ASF source indicated that this type of legal action was up to the Attorney General’s Office. However, it is explicitly stated in “legal norms governing the ASF” that among its attributions is to “directly identify compensatory responsibilities and apply fines and sanctions”. Not fulfilling this function resulted in impunity for identified cases of fraud with public education funds.
Are there other possible effects of this ruling? Yes, there are. The social objective of the Mexicanos Primero Civil Organization is to defend the constitutional right of Mexican citizens to a quality education. This decision establishes grounds for future requests for injunctions on the part of other organizations dedicated to defending different legal rights. In practice, the ruling potentially requires that the ASF initiate legal action in all detected cases of malfeasance related to federal funds. This has the potential to strike fear in the hearts of public officials at all levels across the nation, since the ASF is responsible for “auditing the three branches of governmental power, constitutionally autonomous federal organizations and, in general, all public institutions that receive federal funds including states, municipalities, and even private persons”.