Mexican opposition pushes back rules to speed up public projects

The Mexican opposition has denounced rules that would allow President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to bypass regulatory hurdles to approve controversial public projects, calling them unconstitutional and vowing to press charges.

Rules published in the Government Gazette require that projects considered by the government to be in the public interest and in the interest of national security obtain automatic provisional approval within five days. The broad formulation covers sectors ranging from energy and telecommunications to health.

All new permits required for López Obrador’s flagship projects – including an $ 8 billion oil refinery, an $ 8 billion tourist train in southern Mexico and an airport for the capital – would be sped up by the move. .

The president said on Tuesday that the directive was aimed at preventing bureaucracy from blocking projects, allowing the government to bypass environmental and other regulatory controls.

“It is very disturbing because for a government that says it is committed to transparency and accountability, this decision is anything but,” said Arturo Sarukhán, former Mexican ambassador to the United States, saying that the rules had set the tone for the second half of López Obrador’s term. .

“What you’re going to see, and this is one of the first signals, is a president who is actually going to double down on his pet peeve, his favorite projects,” he said.

The opposition National Action (PAN) party is considering its legal options to fight the decree, a lawmaker said, including through constitutional challenges.

Another PAN lawmaker, Senator Lilly Téllez, who previously belonged to López Obrador’s Morena party but went into opposition last year, said on Twitter that she would push for a constitutional challenge against the government.

“They are going to need a lawyer because we are going to win,” she wrote.

The Mexican Bar Association said in a statement Tuesday that the decree was illegal and violated the constitution in several ways, including with respect to economic competition and the separation of powers.

The directive could help speed up the issuance of new permits related to existing projects as well as others the government is seeking to undertake, experts said.

The Maya Train project has been particularly controversial for its impact on a critical biosphere reserve. The route has been altered and delayed several times by legal challenges. This complicated the president’s goal of completing the project by the end of 2023.

Another of López Obrador’s projects, the Dos Bocas oil refinery, is expected to officially start operating next year, but Juan Carlos Rodriguez Arguelles, an economist at OilX, has estimated that it will not be completed until the first quarter of 2023. .

López Obrador has previously announced that he will put the Maya train, a new airport for Mexico City and other major projects in the hands of the Defense Ministry. He said it was to prevent their privatization, but the opposition warned against “militarizing” the country.

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