October 29, 2015 / 3:08 AM / 3 years ago

CORRECTED-Mexico to follow global transparency model for new airport work

(Corrects spelling of transparency advocate Bohorquez paragraphs 7,9)

By Michael O’Boyle

MEXICO CITY, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Mexico’s government, tarnished by a conflict-of-interest row over its links to public contractors, said on Wednesday it would follow new global transparency standards in awarding bids for a $13 billion airport.

President Enrique Pena Nieto told government officials and transparency advocates from around the world that he would increase efforts to shed light on public procurement practices.

The new Mexico City airport will follow the “open contracting data standard” designed by World Bank officials and transparency experts and is the first project of its size to apply the measure, he told a conference in the capital.

As a global standard, it would enable independent auditors to scrutinize better how the project is executed.

Pena Nieto’s popularity suffered last year when it emerged that he, his wife and his finance minister had all bought or had use of homes that belonged to a major government contractor.

That sparked calls for an inquiry, and the ensuing probe was led by a former classmate of the finance minister who exonerated all three. Critics derided the findings as a whitewash.

Implementing the new standard would be a “paradigm shift,” said Eduardo Bohorquez, director of watchdog Transparencia Mexicana. The measure would require information to be released on the planning, the tender process and implementation.

Public information is currently only available on the tender, and analysts complain data is incomplete.

“Let’s see what happens, but as a starting point this is good news,” Bohorquez said.

Mexico made advances in improving access to government information after the opposition put an end to 71 years of one-party rule in 2000 and passed a freedom of information law.

However, the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) returned to power with Pena Nieto and civil society groups say his commitment to transparency at global forums has not been matched by actions at home.

Activists say data currently available on public contracts in Mexico is incomplete, hampering efforts by independent groups to audit public spending and infrastructure projects.

An upcoming study by watchdog Mexico Evalua says only 40 percent of contracts issued last year worth more than 100 million pesos included key documents in the public database needed to assess whether bidding was competitive.

“On the issue of public contracting, I don’t see that it’s advanced at all,” said Mariana Campos of Mexico Evalua. “There are so many holes in the information we need to fill in.” (Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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