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Practitioner’s Page • Senators aim to empower Mexican cities
JUNE | JULY 2008 Federations
Ramon Galind o Norieg a
Senator aims to empower Mexican cities
Intervie w by David Par ks
Federations : As a mayor and as a legislator,
what has your experience been with
municipal government in Mexico?
Senator Galindo : Throughout my political
career, in Ciudad Juarez as mayor,
and as a legislator both in the State
Legislature and the Mexican Congress,
acting first as deputy and now as a senator,
I have had the good fortune to get to
know at first hand the enormous need
there is in Mexico – as in other countries
– to strengthen local communities and
the authorities nearest to them, the
During my term as mayor of the thriving
city of Ciudad Juarez, whose
economic activity and huge productive
capacity are well known, even internationally,
I faced one unfortunate fact.
That fact is that local communities and
the level of government closest to them
suffer from their position in a centralist
framework. Paradoxically, while this is
called a federation, throughout history,
power (in Mexico) has been centrally
concentrated – from the power over
decision-making that affects the most
basic aspects of local development to the
income generated over the length and
breadth of the nation.
How income from local economic
activity is used, is decided at the federal
level (in Mexico). In reality, therefore,
municipalities have no way of influencing
either their own economic or social
development. Essentially, local governments
have to settle for carrying out
cosmetic work – maintenance of roads,
parks and other public spaces, street
lighting, trash collection, preventive
policing, transportation and so forth. It
is impossible for them to intervene, or
even offer an opinion, with regard to the
key factors for improving peoples’ quality
of life, such as employment and social
welfare, health and decent medical care,
e d u c a t i o n , h o u s i n g a n d l a w
As a result, my main goal has been to
find, promote and implement strategies
and institutional tools that serve to
strengthen Mexico’s local communities
and their governments, that is, the
municipalities and their municipal
Federations : During your career as a legislator,
what municipal issues have you
dealt with?
Senator Galindo : In my work as a deputy
in the 59th session of the Mexican
Congress (from Sept.1, 2003 to August 31,
2006), I chaired the commission for
strengthening federalism. We pushed
reforms to expand the functions exclusive
to municipal councils, with a view
to recognizing how diverse municipalities
are. This means different policies
will be applied in different situations.
Other aims were:
l to regulate intergovernmental relat
ions and the dist r ibut ion of
functions and powers according to
the principles of subsidiarity (which
means that services should be provided
by that order of government
closest to the citizen whenever possible)
and co-operative federalism;
l to institute comprehensive strategic
planning and a career civil service;
l to evaluate local governments’ efficiency
using performance indicators,
l to bolster the municipal public treasury
through taxation.
We also sought to do away with the
prohibition of re-election of mayors and
municipal council members, leaving
this decision in the hands of local legislatures
and to reinforce transparency in
the use of public funds; and to stress citizens’
obligation to participate in
planning development. We favour such
methods as plebiscites, referendums,
public consultation and open meetings.
Now, during the (current) 60th session
of Congress, I preside, in the Senate,
over the municipal development commission,
in which we focus more closely
P R A C T I T I O N E R ’ S P A G E
Mexico, the second most populous
federation in North America, has had
a tradition of strong central
government. As a result, its states
and municipalities have been highly
dependent on transfers from the
federal government, transfers which
are often designated for specific
In this issue, Federations* interviews
Mexican Senator Ramon Galindo

Norie ga, who represents the state of
Chihuahua in Mexico’s Senate.
Senator Galindo speaks, among
other topics, about how his
experience as a municipal mayor
prepared him for his role as head of
the Senate’s Commission for
Municipal Development.
Before joining the Senate, Galindo
sat from 2000 to 2006 in the
Chamber of Deputies, presiding over
the House Commission for
Federalism. Prior to his federal posts,
he was the Mayor of Ciudad Juarez
from 1995 to 1997; Director of Social
Development in Ciudad Juarez from
1992 to 1995 and a state legislator in
Chihuahua from 1989 to 1992.
Senator Galindo is a chartered public
accountant with a Master’s Degree in
Planning and Tourism from the
University of Surrey in the United
* Senator Galindo was interviewed by
David Parks, the Forum’s Director of
North American Programs.
JUNE | JULY 2008 Federations
on the changes required to Mexican law.
Federations : What do you consider to be
the k e y re forms in muni c ipa l
Senator Galindo : There are over 30 legislat
ive amendments, both to the
constitution and to secondary laws.
However, our local communities’ development
cur rent ly rests on three
fundamental pillars. The first is the
implementation of subsidiarity, as the
incontrovertible principle and purpose
of governmental relations between the
federation, states, municipalities and the
Federal District. The second is transferral
of the power to elect and re-elect municipal
council members to the state
legislatures. The third is equitable taxation
that ensures municipalities receive
their share of taxes collected by the
Federations : What does subsidiarity
Senator Galindo : Subsidiarity is a principle
that, together with co-operative
federalism, seeks to make each level of
government focus on the tasks and functions
in which it is most productive.
Subsidiarity starts from the premise that
the body closest to communities and
individuals should be the one charged
with providing the public services that
directly affect their development, wellbeing
and quality of life. These are,
precisely, municipal governments.
State governments should only concern
themselves with the functions the
municipal government cannot carry out
and, in turn, the federation should concern
itself solely with the functions that
municipalities and state governments
cannot manage themselves.
In the end, it is great, productive and
competitive cities that make great, productive
and competitive countries.
Federations : Why do you want to allow
the re-election of municipal officials?
Senator Galindo : My recommendation
would not really allow re-election of local
authorities who make up municipal
councils, but rather would do away with
the prohibition of re-election in the constitution
so that a genuine debate could
begin about whether re-election should
be established in a particular state or not.
The debate should take place where the
effects of a decision for or against re-election
will be felt.
Both specialists in the subject and
international experience indicate that
the best way to ensure continuity for
community projects and programs, as
well as to professionalize public service,
is to allow terms of office to be extended
when performance has been satisfactory.
The current situation means that regardless
of a mayor’s efficiency, responsibility
and honesty, he is invariably removed at
the end of his term of office. This happens
every three years, leading to a lack
of continuity in projects and replacement
of cabinets by inexperienced officials
who have barely begun to understand
municipal functions and public services.
By the time they do, after three years,
their work is threatened by the change of
The possibility of re-electing local
authorities would not confer greater
power on them, but rather give to citizens
power over those who govern. This would
make officeholders less concerned with
accountability to their parties or the federation,
and more accountable to the
electorate. In short, it would mean
devolving power to the people.
Federations : Does Mexico need a more
equitable system of taxation for Mexican
municipalities? If so, how should it work?
Senator Galindo : In matters of tax equity,
we have sought to implement a participatory
system for financing, which gives
municipalities a voice in their own development
and, consequent ly, the
development of the nation. The productivity
index of a given municipality – and
this is something international experience
in countries with a federal tradition
also suggests – must influence the
amounts it receives as a participant in a
federal system.
It does not make sense for the federation,
which collects the value-added tax,
income tax and the flat-rate tax on business,
to decide unilaterally where these
revenues are spent, without the municipalities
directly receiving a portion of
them. It is essential that municipalities
receive funds in proportion to the income
they contribute to the federation as a
result of their economic activities, since
this is reflected in taxes on consumption
and income.
When municipalities receive a percentage
of the taxes on consumption
and/or on income, they, together with
local communities, will become engines
of the economy, by the natural logic that,
unlike now, part of their taxes will remain
in the city. The municipal budget has no
relation whatsoever to local economic
activity and this is a very expensive error,
since it encourages permanent local government
dependence on the central
government. But an even more serious
consequence is that it creates a vicious
cycle of deficiencies such as low levels of
tax collection, lack of investment in public
works and infrastructure, limited and
poor quality public services, crime, overpopulation
and poverty.
Federations : How have you gone about
promoting your initiatives in the context
of government reform?
Senator Galindo : Within the framework of
the government reform act, for which the
Executive Commission for Negotiation
and Establishment of Agreements
(CENCA) was set up, reforms under various
headings were discussed, including
the question of federalism. I took part in
this discussion with the aim of promoting
stronger municipalities through
several initiatives.
With some pride I can confirm that
the reforms we put forward are among
those that have achieved greatest consensus.
Among these are the inclusion of
the principles of subsidiarity and
co-operative federalism as guiding principles
in intergovernmental relations; the
elimination of the express prohibition
against re-election of municipal officials;
recognition of municipal diversity; the
possibility of municipalities signing
international accords; recognition of the
municipality as an order of government
making up the federal states; transparency
and accountability; participative
democracy; municipal career civil service;
and free association to promote
development and the provision of public
At present, the CENCA initiatives are
pending debate in the plenary session of
the houses of Congress, so although this
is not the final word, we are optimistic
that they will soon be adopted, opening a
new chapter in the life of the government
of Mexico.
Federations : What are the challenges facing
modern municipalities in Mexico?
Senator Galindo : Mexico’s municipalities,
through their municipal councils, face
the challenge of promoting the economic
and social development of their
communities locally. They must also
demand the return of powers and
responsibilities that correspond to them.
The municipalities need to be able to
encourage creativity among their citizens,
to promote transparency and
accountability, and to carry out comprehensive
I would say that there are two kinds of
challenges currently facing municipalities
in Mexico: on one hand, to return
power to the people so they decide their
future at a local level, define a strategy
and make commitments; and on the
other hand, to return more instruments
of governance to municipal governments
so they can carry out the tasks required of
them by the electorate.
Mexico has a need and an obligation
to bestow a sense of public responsibility
on the federation, and the only way to do
this is to return the freedom and responsibility
that should never have been taken
away from the people so that our new
and greater destiny can be built in the
way everything is built, from the ground