Mexico’s state comptroller’s office was criticized on Tuesday for backing down on an audit that found President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decision to scrap a partially constructed airport was much more expensive than the government said .
The turnaround came after the auditor’s office, ASF, highlighted a variety of irregularities and miscalculations in flagship government projects. He raised concerns that López Obrador pressured the comptroller to withdraw the finding, as part of a preliminary audit of the 2019 government accounts.
In the audit, the ASF had estimated the cost of scrapping the Mexico City airport designed by Norman Foster at more than 331 billion pesos ($ 17.6 billion). López Obrador had said it would cost 100 billion pesos.
On Monday, the president rolled out one of his favorite slogans – “I have other data,” whenever he challenges official numbers or adverse forecasts – to slam the key conclusion of audit, which was released over the weekend.
He described it as overkill, saying: “I hope [the ASF] clarifies. “ He did not provide his alternative data.
In a few hours, the ASF issued a statement claiming that there had been “inconsistencies” in the part of the audit relating to the cancellation of the airport by López Obrador in 2018. The figures were under “exhaustive review”, he said .
In its statement, the ASF did not give any revised calculation of the cost of canceling the project, which had unease aroused by investors at the time.
The ASF attributed its about-face to “a methodological deficiency”. He did not say whether he was reversing other findings contained in the report.
“This has never happened before,” said Max Kaiser, head of the Coparmex employers’ federation’s anti-corruption commission and a former government auditor.
López Obrador, who has largely centralized control in his government, has already targeted other independent institutions, threatening to cut some he considers too costly. Analysts believe this risks a dangerous erosion of the checks and balances on Mexico’s most powerful president in a generation.
Kaiser said the ASF raid demonstrated that the president would not even need to suppress institutions he disagreed with, and could instead render them “inoperative” by questioning their credibility. .
“The fear is that [state statistics office] Inegi or Banxico [the central bank] could also be challenged, ”said a former senior government official in López Obrador, who asked not to be named.
Neither the ASF nor the president’s spokesperson could be contacted immediately to comment on the overthrow.
In the audit, the ASF also reported other irregularities in presidential pet plans, including an apprenticeship program that apparently paid out grants to deceased people and a microcredit program which it said was well below the number of beneficiaries reported by the government. He also questioned some payments for a flagship train and refinery project.
“It is scandalous what the ASF has documented and published about the multi-million dollar irregularities detected in the 2019 state accounts”, Julieta Macías Rábago tweeted, opposition member of the Movimiento Ciudadano party. “You have to say it as is. There CANNOT be any other data, it is THE DATA. “
Valeria Moy, head of IMCO, a think tank, urged the ASF to clarify the details of its miscalculation. “Where was the error – or more than a mistake, was it the pressure? She tweeted.