- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

QUERETARO, Mexico.

From the perspective of a political scientist, nothing is perhaps as genuinely Mexican as the long-term institutionalized corruption of our police and bureaucracy. This is so longstanding and deeply embedded in daily routine that the concept of “ethical government” is a true oxymoron.

So don’t be surprised that Vicente Fox, who campaigned as a reformer, has been unable to completely eradicate corruption in the three years he has been president. Change of this magnitude takes time.

Despite our continuing problems, Mexico is clearly a different country than during our 71 years of one-party rule, when the government was all too willing to play fast and loose with the law at the expense of the people. There has been a shift in priorities. There’s a new sense of public integrity. And President Fox deserves credit for this.

“Honesty, responsibility, accountability and care for the common good are absolutely essential [in]… Public life,” he recently told the National Chamber of Commerce. “Ethics in politics is demonstrated with deeds and not with words.”

Instilling government employees, from the top ministers to the junior-most clerks, with an ethical sense is like performing a cultural transplant. That’s why it’s important efforts continue to end bribery and extortion and extinguish corruption.

President Fox has taken the lead. Today, for example, all government ministries in my country have accountability officers, responsible for enforcing ethical standards, as well as improving the efficiency and accountability.

As part of President Fox’s effort, the government has started a virtual university, called @campus Mexico. The goal is to train 45,000 government officials over the next two years. But the government can’t do it alone, so Mr. Fox has invited universities and private sector organizations such as ours to join the effort.

Our contribution was developing a course in ethics and “character formation” for public officials. The first of its kind in Latin America, the course can be taken in an instructor-guided workshop or used as an interactive, online self-training tool.

Some 1,800 government employees, mostly law enforcement officers and police academy students, have completed the course. But, with 100,000 police officers in Mexico, this only scratches the surface. So we developed a new, compact-disk version of the course, to expand our outreach.

Interest in clean government is growing. Though many Mexicans seem deadened to the relentless culture of corruption that has gripped our country so many years, they have also wearied of it.

Last year, with strong support from the famous Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, a group of leading business executives provided seed money for additional initiatives. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for example, is now an adviser to Mexico City. Mexico is creating a federal investigatory agency (Agencia Federal de Investigaciones) similar to the FBI. The agency, with 5,000 agents in training — most of them graduate students — begins our ethics-in-government program this month.

It is still too soon to claim victory over corruption. But the efforts are having an impact. Private companies, community foundations, educational and religious institutions and the media all have joined the ethics-in-government bandwagon.

Thanks to a recent financial award from global financier and philanthropist Sir John Templeton and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which sponsors the Templeton Freedom Awards, we can now look beyond our borders and spread the message of ethical government elsewhere in Latin America.

It is still too soon to know whether President Fox’s efforts will clean up our government. But he has made a noteworthy start. Perhaps some of our neighbors will follow our lead.

Carolina R. de Bolivar is president of the Instituto Cultural Ludwig von Mises in Queretaro, Mexico, which recently won a “Templeton Freedom Award” for promoting ethics and values in government.

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