The Citizen Comptrollers program is unique among Mexico’s 31 states. Managed by the Comptroller General of Mexico City (CGCDMX), the program facilitates citizen monitoring of public expenditures across the vast city bureaucracy, including the implementation of public contracts. Volunteer auditors are trained, credentialed, and then assigned to follow a particular board, commission or process. If they observe any irregularities, citizen comptrollers file reports that may lead the Comptroller General or other authorities to conduct a formal audit or investigation; this has happened more than 30 times.
Misuse of public resources—including corruption, waste and fraud—reduces public confidence in government and discourages engagement in democratic processes. But tighter regulation and oversight can itself be expensive, or it can create new red tape to be exploited.
How Did They Do It?
Mexico City’s Citizen Participation law provides for a citizen comptroller program that empowers volunteers to monitor the transparency, effectiveness and efficiency of public spending. This and other citizen programs are intended to support the first two prongs of a ‘prevent, detect and sanction’ approach to curbing corruption at the local and federal levels.
"The volunteers are 'regular ladies and gentleman' who are responding to a call from their government."
Lic. Jose Manuel Oropeza Morales, Director of Citizen Comptrollers
To participate, interested residents apply to the city and are invited to attend an induction course covering laws on access to public information, personal data protection and procurement procedures. Citizens fulfilling all requirements receive a Citizen Comptroller credential for attending meetings and events.
A Citizen Comptroller is designated to each of the city’s 104 boards, commissions and councils and its procurement organs. The citizen attends meetings and submits detailed reports to the Comptroller General. If any irregular activities are detected, a complaint is launched. Citizen Comptrollers also conduct citizen-satisfaction surveys to identify issues with service delivery and how civil servants treat citizens.
How Is It Going?
As of mid-2017, there were 893 active volunteer comptrollers, with 260 more to be named, split almost evenly between men and women. Nearly half (45 percent) are over the age of 51. A few of the program’s achievements include:
- Conducting over 150 visits to federal social-development programs, representing an exponential increase in in-person monitoring.
- Surveying more than 1,000 citizens across more than 100 public prosecutors’ offices.
- Uncovering corruption in how beneficiaries are determined for a government program to promote the agricultural and fishing industries.
- Prompting more than 30 formal audits through use of the online complaint system
The Comptroller General and Education Secretariat have also launched Chiquicontraloria (Kid Comptrollers) to promote values of honesty, respect, friendship and solidarity in elementary-age children through educational and recreational activities.
Other initiatives include a Mobile Controller Office which tours the city to build public awareness; a Public Works Certification Lab, inspired by a British program, which gives citizens the opportunity to monitor construction projects; and ethics training for political candidates and public servants. The Comptroller’s office is gauging performance by tracking the traceability of decisions, the number of electronic public bidding processes, and the number of bids being received.
- Enforcing access to meetings. Any sort of citizen-monitoring effort relies on enforcement of open-meetings regulations, including advance notice. Mexico City’s Citizen Participation Act requires all city agencies to inform the Citizen Comptrollers program about upcoming procurement, bidding, and budgeting meetings, but there is no enforcement mechanism. Therefore, it can be hard for the citizen comptrollers to track all relevant meetings.
- Sustaining or co-opting? Civic activists and journalists have long provided independent oversight of government spending. However, such efforts may not be sustainable, comprehensive or even safe, depending on the health of the free press. Having government-sponsored citizen watchdogs may provide sustainable support, but it also introduces the risk that citizen auditors will feel inclined or pressured not to reveal information that is damaging to powerful interests.