Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Public Building

One of the most notable features of local government here is how building projects play a huge role in virtually every politician's agenda. Balancing the books, creating jobs, reducing crime, attacking corruption--any of those are fine, as far as they go, but they are secondary to, say, a two-tier highway. To wit: above we have Torreón's impossibly complicated Nudo Mixteco, which took roughly two years to build and replaced a stoplight that had functioned just fine. (To top it off, half of it is inaccessible as of a couple of weeks ago, blocked off by Jersey walls for some inexplicable reason. I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but I can't help but wonder if it's to force all traffic eastward, toward a major retail drag.) This is emblematic of the prevailing governing philosophy everywhere, especially at the local level, but in national politics as well (i.e., the oil refinery that both economists and industry analysts said was a bad idea).

Anyway, here's a two-week-old piece by Sergio Sarmiento on the subject:
The multiplication of transit works has turned into a constant for the country. With the coffers full from high oil prices and recent tax increases, politicians have found that public works, particularly in transportation, are a good way to promote themselves.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people that live in the northeast of Mexico City couldn't arrive at their jobs, schools, or medical treatments because the business OHL, which constructed the second floor of the north freeway, didn't open the road on the date it had promised. The delays in the opening have become constant in the project spurred by the priísta governor of Mexico State, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Residents of Mexico City have lived nightmarish years for a wave of construction that started with the second story of the highway, the signature project of the PRD's Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The presence mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, also of the PRD, has placed the capital upside down with projects such as the change of asphalt (which was still in good condition) of the interior thoroughfare with hydraulic concrete.


Other cities experience similar chaos. The panista mayor Jorge Ramos was inspired to imitate Ebrard in replacing all at once the asphalt in a good part of the streets of Tijuana with hydraulic concrete. Traffic chaos, which only now has begun to lessen, has lasted two years.

This avalanche of building projects reflects the majority of money that local politicians have, the majority of the debt for their governments, and the concession of the operation of the projects to private businesses (the second floor in the state of Mexico and Mexico City will be operated under this scheme). The politicians, of course, prefer projects that can be seen, such as roads and bridges, to those that can not be seen, such as hydraulic infrastructure, even though they may be more important to the community.

I assume that the contracts are awarded cleanly and transparently and that there are not commissions or kickbacks, but there is no doubt that construction businesses will always be more disposed to support campaigns of a politician that has given them significant contracts.

No comments: