The tragedy of Line 12 of the subway has put the austerity policy of the federal government and Mexico City in the spotlight. The head of Government, Claudia Sheinbaum, has denied that the fall in the budget has compromised the operation and maintenance of the collective transport system and that it was one of the causes of the collapse near the Olivos station, in which at least 25 people died. and dozens more were injured. “The metro has had sufficient resources, we will never skimp on the resources that are required,” said the president this Thursday, at a press conference that focused on responding to criticism about how and where the money is spent to guarantee the daily mobility of nearly five million users.
“This false idea that it is due to an austerity issue has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Sheinbaum has defended and pointed out that the political project of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, his party partner, only advocates that the luxury expenses of the Government, not essential ones. López Obrador’s mantra since coming to power in December 2018 is to do more with less, a policy that has put an end to flights on the presidential plane, but which has also been exposed for limiting the use of stationery, electricity and other supplies. basic to public sector workers. The president has reduced the salaries of civil servants and has proposed, for example, that they share their computers to save on expenses. Reluctant to promote a tax reform, with progressive taxes on the richest, the president defends that there will be enough money with the cuts and the fight against corruption.
In light of this week’s tragedy, the president’s austere speech has lost its luster. Unionized metro technicians, drivers and employees have denounced for years that they do not have the money or the sufficient conditions to operate in a network that was inaugurated more than five decades ago. Line 12, paradoxically, is the newest line and the one that has caused the most problems, with daily maintenance requirements carried out by an external company that charges around 120 million pesos a year for the service (about six million dollars). “Since 2012 we have been exposing to the authorities on duty, from different administrations, the dissatisfaction of colleagues for working under these conditions,” said Fernando Espino, secretary of the National Union of Workers of the Collective Transport System, in an interview with this newspaper. .
Despite the fact that the expert reports are just beginning, the hypothesis of lack of maintenance has gained momentum in the political debate. Leonardo Núñez, researcher for Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, underlines, based on official figures, that the budget assigned to the metro for 2021 is the lowest in nine years, with a 25% reduction in real terms compared to 2018. Núñez published an article on Wednesday titled “The Sheinbaum lie: cuts and sub-exercises in the subway”, in which he accuses that the transport system spent in 2020 around 1,300 million pesos less, 8.7%, of the budget that was approved, according to official data.
The data and the controversy come out of the report the public account of last year, presented in the local Congress on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after the incident on Line 12. Luz Elena Escobar, Secretary of Finance, has ruled out that there was such an under-exercise and has said that the budget reductions are due to that during the pandemic the number of users fell by 40% and, consequently, the income received from the ticket fee. Escobar has assured that the expenses in spare parts and stable maintenance “have remained stable in recent years.” The authorities have maintained that, due to the fall in the number of passengers, the cost per transported user increased to 7.1 pesos, compared to the 4 pesos that were paid in recent years. “Not a weight has been reduced,” added Sheinbaum. The president has said that funds that were in trusts were also recovered in 2019, which explains why the budget was higher that year than in 2020.
However, discrepancies persist. The local Congress originally approved a budget of 15,652 million pesos, which was later modified downwards and remained at 14,878 million pesos, according to the public account. But that information does not coincide with that presented by Escobar at the press conference this Thursday, which speaks of the fact that there were only 14,290 million pesos of budget for 2020. It is the same figure that was presented as the budget exercised, so According to his exposition, there was no sub-exercise. The accounts that the Ministry of Finance officially presented to Congress reveal that 587 million pesos less were actually spent: the difference between 14,878 million and 14,290 million pesos. “Either the figures reported in the public account are not correct or the information presented during Dr. Claudia Sheinbaum’s press conference is wrong,” Núñez replied in a document.
The days that have followed the collapse anticipate the tone that the debates will have about what happened and the scrutiny to which the authorities will be subject, in a tragedy that has affected the last three governments in the capital. The Administration of Marcelo Ebrard, current Secretary of Foreign Relations, ordered the construction, in a process that eventually left 48 people sanctioned by the control bodies. The Government of Miguel Ángel Mancera, now a senator, was in charge of the main repairs to Line 12, before and after the 2017 earthquake. Sheinbaum’s management has had to respond to the accident, which has not led to resignations in his Cabinet . The promise is to reach the ultimate consequences in investigations.
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