While searching for information regarding a government program on water waste treatment, we decided to review the audit reports of physical investments of Mexico’s Supreme Audit Institution (Auditoría Superior de la Federación – ASF). We were surprised: we expected to find very complex documents, however -despite their technical language- they turned out to be no more difficult to read than budget information. We also realized that these documents could be an important source of data for organizations interested in knowing how governmental programs are supervised.
Our organization, ControlaTuGobierno, A.C., has been working on the topics of access to information and social audits of water services in the State of Mexico. Given that the majority of treatment plants in the region were out of service or running at its minimum capacity, we were interested to know the results achieved by the Wastewater Treatment Program supported by the federal government in various cities.
The tool created by the ASF to facilitate the online search and consultation of all audit reports carried out since 2000 allowed us to view them easily. With this tool, ControlaTuGobierno found various audit reports of physical investments of the program, and it focused on the reports for the State of Mexico between 2012 and 2013.
What impressed us at first was the amount of information contained in these documents. There is data concerning resource allocation and delivery; the program’s legal and regulatory framework and its compliance or non-compliance; very detailed description of the budgetary flows and their execution; and a very long list of data which due to space reasons is not worth mentioning here. In the case of the Wastewater Treatment Program, audit reports show the key issues where the implementation of public policy fails –from non-compliance of the regulatory framework to lack of technical studies needed to design and properly build wastewater treatment plants. This explains why these treatment plants don’t work or run at minimum capacity.
However, it caught our attention that no organization follows up on the many observations, recommendations and suggested sanctions listed in these audit reports. This led us to ask ourselves “what happens after the ASF audits?” We are convinced that ControlaTuGobierno has a key role in ensuring that the Wastewater Treatment Program works properly and serves its purpose for which it was set up. We also believe that the audit reports are authentic blogs that can help us understand what we should monitor in the next budget cycle.
We also believe that the ASF could benefit from the contributions of civil society organizations in order to improve their work. After all, ASF’s reports are merely a picture which can only become reality after citizens’ engagement. For instance, in the case of the Wastewater Treatment Program, auditors verify that the funds were invested and that the treatment plant was built; however, they don’t ensure that the facilities are handed to those responsible of operating it, nor do they verify that it is set to work. Therefore, it is important that ASF opens its doors to not only organizations that work on transparency and accountability, but also to those that work on access to water as a human right. This, coupled with the support of academic institutions working on this topic in various states, will allow us to move forward in a collaborative process to allow more effective scrutiny of public management and exercise of comprehensive social audits. In Mexico, this would to improve the management of the Wastewater Treatment Program and also enhance the remedial and punitive effect of audit findings by the Supreme Audit Institution.
Such collaboration has not yet been materialized, despite the proposals by ControlaTuGobierno and REDDERE, A.C. to the ASF some time ago.
We believe that now is the time to approach the ASF once again, given that we have the opportunity of including in Mexico’s OGP National Action Plan the participation of civil society in ASFs work. Therefore, it would be ideal if other organizations that have previously collaborated with Supreme Audit Institutions share their experiences with us. In the meantime, we invite you to look through our Workbook #3 in which we present the aforementioned experience and that is available on our website.
About the Author
Maylí Consuelo Sepúlveda
Maylí es coordinadora general de ControlaTuGobierno.Com, A.C., organización civil que ofrece servicios de capacitación, asesoría y acompañamiento a organizaciones civiles y servidores públicos en los temas de transparencia, acceso a la información, rendición de cuentas, contraloría social, gestión de archivos y colaboración entre sociedad y gobierno. También es consultora de organizaciones internacionales para proyectos de rendición de cuentas y promoción del acceso a la información, entre ellas the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), American University, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the International Budget Partnership, el Banco Mundial y el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo. Fue Directora de Vinculación con la Sociedad Organizada en el Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información Pública, y servidora pública en el Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación y el Instituto Federal Electoral.