Mexican Officials and Civil Society Look at Ways to Increase Citizen Security

As the security situation in many communities in Mexico continues to deteriorate, state and local elected officials and representatives from civil society and municipal government associations gathered in Mexico City to discuss approaches and best practices in democratic governance including how to increase citizen participation and citizen security through the use of information and communications technology. 

The “Democratic Governance Municipal Forum,” hosted by IRI included mayors and staff from Oaxaca de Juarez and San Bartolo Coyotepec, located in Oaxaca State, as well as representatives from Cuernavaca, Morelos.  The forum featured panelists from San Pedro Garza Garcia in Nuevo Leon State, Corregidora in Queretaro State, Cuajimalpa Delegation in Mexico City, and from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

During the forum participants attended sessions where they discussed ways to communicate with citizens and gain their input on pressing community issues, how to obtain and use critical local resources, how to prioritize and spend local budgets in an open and transparent manner, and how to develop and implement community plans.  

The forum opened with a discussion on communicating with citizen and ways to include them in the decision-making process.  Octavio Acosta, from ICMA, provided an overview of different strategies mayors can use to increase their communication with citizens, such as radio and television advertisements, door-to-door visits and working in partnership with civil society to engage citizens in determining community priorities.  Alejandro Zapata, social communications director of the Cuajimalpa Delegation shared how his neighborhood implemented a community outreach program using unarmed prevention police working with citizens and local leaders to foster stronger ties between the community and police.  This effort was one tool which led to a lower crime rate in Cuajimalpa Delegation.

Ricardo Rodriguez, Comptroller of San Pedro Garza Garcia, spoke about how local governments can obtain and use critical resources.  San Pedro Garza Garcia is one of the richest and most developed municipalities in Mexico; consequently, it receives limited state and federal funds and relies on taxes from local citizens to fund most of its programs and operations.  Rodriguez highlighted efforts his city undertakes to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and in a transparent way to ensure community support.  Some of the practices Rodriguez highlighted are a regular public rendering of municipal accounts; hiring a civil service force and technical personnel based on skills and qualifications; and including citizen input into the city’s budgeting process. 

One of San Pedro Garza Garcia most notable successes is its Citizen Committee, which is composed of the city comptroller, treasurer and six citizens elected by the community.  The committee is tasked with not only providing input to the municipality on the rules and regulations associated with the bidding process, but also overseeing the implementation of the public works.  This ensures transparency and accountability in the disbursement and proper use of public funds.  Together with the other practices, San Pedro Garza Garcia demonstrates to citizens that the city is using tax revenue responsibly, which leads citizens to pay their taxes, a difficulty many communities in Mexico face.

Gabriela Lozano, director of crime prevention in Corregidora, and Julio Guillen, a nationally recognized municipal administration consultant, talked about how municipalities can successfully confront security challenges at the local level.  They discussed how Corregidora provided professionalization training for the municipal police and the allocation of funds for the improvement of green spaces, public lighting repairs and the installation of city-wide closed-circuit security cameras.  These changes have increased community trust in the local police and improved community-police collaboration which has contributed to a lower crime rate in Corregidora. 

The forum’s focus on institutionalizing best practices – such as including citizens in the community’s decision-making process, being transparent in how taxpayer dollars are being used, and developing and implementing plans to address community concerns in a collaborative manner – was particularly important given that mayors in Mexico are term limited to one term.  By institutionalizing these successful programs and best practices, local communities across the country ensure that progress continues to be made on priority issues.

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