MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party beat back attempts Thursday to save 109 semi-independent government trust funds that finance everything from science to movie productions to disaster relief.
In a party-line vote, the lower house of Mexico’s congress voted to eliminate the trusts and have the government directly administer the money. During two days of angry debate, the opposition was able to win only minor changes.
Opponents depicted the move as a power and money grab that could hurt scientists, athletes, and vulnerable groups by making funding dependent on yearly budget appropriations. López Obrador has called the funds wasteful and says they lack oversight. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The issue has sparked more heated debate than any of López Obrador’s initiatives since he took office almost two years ago.
Together, the funds manage almost $3.2 billion in government funds for research, health, sports and education projects, including one that finances protection for threatened journalists. Critics claim the administration wants the money to fill current spending needs.
López Obrador and his party say that funding for those projects is assured, but that the administration of the trust funds was wasteful and uncontrolled.
Opposition parties and civic groups say the funds’ independence is precisely their value. They charge that with the changes voted through Thursday all the projects would have to rely on annual budget votes, an arrangement that could make them more dependent on the president or political whims.
López Obrador is known for his personal austerity and his hatred of waste, but he has also been accused of building too much personal control of government and of disdaining checks and balances, civic groups and other limits on his power.
The president said there are “trusts for everything, with bureaucracies where in many cases the money is spent, the funds do not get to the people.”
After the trusts are eliminated, he said, his administration will “gather all these funds and hand them out, nobody would lose funding. If high-level athletes depend on these trusts, they should not worry because they are going to continue to get their support payments. If an artist depends on a scholarship from these trusts, he will continue to get it with no problem, or a writer, a moviemaker, whoever.”
Despite such assurances, groups of prominent scientists, filmmakers, writers and artists have opposed the changes.