Mexican president eyes regulatory changes, critics decry power grab

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday backed a proposal to merge three regulatory bodies into one in a move the opposition criticized as a power grab that could jeopardize oversight.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The senate leader of Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), Ricardo Monreal, on Wednesday presented the plan to combine energy regulator CRE, antitrust watchdog the Federal Economic Competition Commission (COFECE), and telecoms regulator IFT.

“If we’re going to save money, I’m for it. Because there was a lot of waste in the creation of (regulatory) bodies,” Lopez Obrador said at a regular daily news conference.

Lopez Obrador has promised to reduce public spending to free up more resources for the poor and his flagship projects.

The merged body would be called the National Institute of Markets and Competition for Wellbeing, have five board members and would generate annual savings of 500 million pesos ($22.4 million), according to a document presented by Monreal.

The opposition National Action Party criticized the proposal as a power grab and a member of the central bank’s board nominated by Lopez Obrador warned it could undermine oversight.

“The autonomous bodies tasked with competition and regulation face powerful economic agents in the market,” the board member, Gerardo Esquivel, said on Twitter.

“That’s why we should think about how to strengthen them so they can do their jobs better, and not how to weaken them or undermine their authority,” added Esquivel, whose wife, Graciela Marquez, is Mexico’s economy minister.

Lopez Obrador criticized his predecessors for backing large, bureaucratic regulatory bodies.

They were “supposedly autonomous, supposedly independent bodies, and most of the budget went there,” he said.

($1 = 22.3188 Mexican pesos)

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Raul Cortes Fernandez; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Paul Simao and Alistair Bell