Baker Institute experts provide road map for addressing corruption in Mexico, Latin America

Jeff Falk

Baker Institute experts provide road map for addressing corruption in Mexico, Latin America

HOUSTON – (Jan. 4, 2019) – A study into corruption in a Mexican district government conducted by experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy offers guidance that could help anti-corruption agencies not only in Mexico but also throughout greater Latin America.

Credit: University

The study, “Anatomy of Urban Corruption: A Review of Official Corruption Complaints from a Mexican City,” was co-authored by Paul Lagunes, a Board of Advisors Visiting Fellow at the institute and assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and Columbia University graduate students Ana Grajales and Tomas Nazal.

“The people who partake in corruption have an incentive to hide their illicit behavior,” the authors wrote. “This represents a strategic challenge to law enforcement officials across Latin American cities. A related concern is that formal claims submitted to a city’s anti-corruption agency are seldom analyzed in a systematic manner.” The authors responded to these challenges by examining a unique data set containing 445 claims collected by an urban district government in central Mexico.

“Our analysis of claims submitted to the local anti-corruption agency … sheds light on the poorly understood phenomenon of bureaucratic corruption,” the authors wrote. “It reveals trends that are, perhaps narrowly, anchored to the district being studied. However, these trends result from applying a set of categories and subcategories that are transferable to other urban districts across Mexico and Latin America. In this sense, the present study models how anti-corruption agencies in Mexico and beyond may structure their caseloads.”

The study’s specific findings first show that the district’s anti-corruption agency is burdened by irrelevant claims — that is, claims that do not refer to corruption, the authors found. “Forwarding these claims to the appropriate authorities, such as the district’s Human Resources Department, would allow the anti-corruption agency to better direct its efforts,” the authors wrote.

The study also finds that the greatest number of corruption-related claims concern access to government information. “This suggests that individuals are sensitive to limits to their right to know — as they should be since government transparency is an important issue with implications for public service provision, trust in the democratic process and the rule of law,” the authors wrote.

“Fortunately, administrative deficiencies of this sort originate from within the government, and so their solution is largely within the anti-corruption agency’s realm of influence. For one, the agency could adopt a similar strategy as that used by Lagunes and (Oscar) Pocasangre (2017) to monitor each agency’s level of transparency. This strategy would involve using aliases to submit Freedom of Information requests, which would then be used to evaluate an agency’s tendency to provide timely and relevant information to citizens.”

Among the other types of claims that stand out is failure to comply with duties, specifically the work performance of government officials. “On the face of it, many claims of this sort describe mere inefficiencies,” the authors wrote. “However, as is discussed at length in this study, the fact that inefficiencies often mask actual corruption means that anti-corruption agencies cannot avoid investigating claims of this nature. The study also finds that local anti-corruption agencies must redouble their efforts to curb bribery and kickback schemes. These are obvious forms of corruption that one would hope are in decline; thus, their continued presence in highly urbanized districts should give rise to concern.”

Finally, the study finds that agencies enjoying ample discretionary powers accumulate a greater number of corruption-related claims. “Mindful of this, the local anti-corruption agency should develop an improved strategy that gives priority to certain agencies and activities over others,” the authors wrote. “Through targeted audits, high-profile prosecutions and clear messaging, the anti-corruption agency can signal that there are real legal consequences to the abuse of public office. Government officials must be mindful that their decisions are subject to review.”


For more information or to schedule an interview with one of the authors, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.

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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.