Justice program in Mexico plagued by problems, report says

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A U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at helping Mexico improve its justice system has been plagued by the mismanagement of a contractor and lack of defined goals, according to a recent Inspector General report.

The U.S.-Mexico Merida Initiative is a $1.4 billion program aimed at drug and crime fighting in Mexico and other parts of Central America. As part of the Merida Initiative, U.S. AID has looked to address systemic issues within Mexico’s judicial system. Since 2008, U.S. AID and Mexican government officials have sought to specifically help with police education and training, judicial exchanges, and support for Mexican law schools.

U.S. AID farmed a large part of the project out to a contractor — Management Systems International, based in Washington — in June 2009. The three-year, $44 million contract has had problems from the beginning, the IG report said.

First, the contract negotiated with MSI doesn’t comply with U.S. AID and government procedures, the report said. As a result, “the mission may not have selected the most qualified contractor to perform the work.” The IG recommended that U.S. AID either provide better justification for its actions or re-start its contracting process.

In a written response, U.S. AID officials disagreed, saying that the award had been challenged and the decision upheld by an agency ombudsman.

The report also questioned whether MSI had been effective.

“If the program continues without a strategic focus, then USAID/Mexico runs the risk of not demonstrating an effective sustainable impact at the end of its 3-year contract,” the report read. “USAID/Mexico will be able to demonstrate that it supported training throughout Mexico, but reform at all levels of the justice sector is questionable.”

In response, U.S. AID officials did not agree with all of the IG recommendations. They wrote, however, that the mission would re-evaluate its objectives.

FAST FACT: A June 2007 survey reported that only about 37 percent of Mexicans had faith in their judicial system.

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