Photo: Mexico's President Peña Nieto Reforms
Mexico’s Congress has approved a public administration overhaul sought by President Enrique Peña Nieto, although his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, plans to file a constitutional challenge against amendments introduced by opposition lawmakers.
The lower house approved the bill - earlier passed by the Senate - by a vote of 423-38 with four abstentions on Thursday.
The legislation eliminates the Public Safety and Public Administration ministries, reducing the number of federal government departments from 18 to 16, but it also includes controversial amendments that give Congress veto power over some domestic security appointments.
One amendment grants the Senate to power to ratify top police brass, a change that the PRI said it will challenge before the Supreme Court.
Senators from the leftist PRD party and conservative National Action Party, or PAN, also introduced an amendment granting the lower house the right to confirm appointments to two high-level public safety posts.
The legislation also would require the government secretary to appear every six months before a bicameral committee to provide an update on public safety advances.
The government reorganization restores to the Government Secretariat - Mexico’s equivalent of an interior ministry - the domestic security functions that had been in the hands of the Public Safety Secretariat since 2000.
Under the change, the Government Secretariat will oversee the 36,500-strong Federal Police force, which was a main pillar in the fight against organized crime under Peña Nieto’s predecessor, the PAN’s Felipe Calderon.
Calderon militarized the struggle against the drug trade shortly after taking office in December 2006, deploying tens of thousands of army soldiers and Federal Police officers to drug war hotspots.
The strategy was deeply unpopular with some sectors who say it exacerbated the security problem in Mexico, where conflict among drug cartels and between criminals and the security forces claimed some 60,000 lives during Calderon’s tenure.
In addition to taking over responsibility for public safety, new Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong will coordinate Peña Nieto’s governmental team as Cabinet chief, a position that did not exist under the previous public administration model.
The overhaul also grants new powers to the ministries of Finance and Public Credit, Social Development and Agrarian Reform, which will be renamed, as well as to the Office of the President.
That latter department will permanently monitor federal public policy and conduct periodic evaluations to improve decision-making.
The overhaul still must still be signed into law by Peña Nieto.
Once published in the Official Gazette, the PRI will have 45 days to file its constitutional challenge.