A dinner of champagne, caviar and smoked salmon at up-market department store Harrods was how Hilda Garcia, a Mexican anti-corruption official, spent part of her $450 per day travel allowance in London last year.
A colleague, Jorge Pulido, sent to Kuala Lumpur for a conference, managed to spend more on taxis and meals out during a layover in Frankfurt than he did on his six-day hotel stay in Malaysia.
Jaime Cerdio was more austere. On a trip to Washington, he lived off $10 sandwiches and soda bought at the local Safeway and paid back almost a third of his total per diem allowance, replenishing the government’s coffers with more than $1,000.
Mexico’s Public Administration Ministry (SFP), charged with oversight and accountability in government, is responsible for reining in spending and tackling corruption. But it admits it has little idea how its own employees spend public money abroad, an examination by Reuters shows.
The SFP has only paper records of its employees’ travel and government rules only require boarding passes and hotel receipts as verification. This means a large chunk of employees’ per diem spending goes unchecked.
The ministry’s finance department could not answer Reuters’ questions on how many employees traveled last year, for how long and how much they spent. Instead, it handed over about 1,000 pages of paper files in cardboard boxes to review.
“We are reviewing this to make sure best practices are applied to this kind of spending,” SFP head Virgilio Andrade told Reuters when asked whether officials should provide more details of how they spend government money abroad.
A new transparency law, approved last year, will mean government agencies and entities have to electronically publish their travel spending, Andrade said.
He hopes that will improve accountability since Mexicans will be able to see where government officials are traveling on official business and question travel spending.
For now, though, the government, tarred by conflict of interest scandals over home purchases by President Enrique Pena Nieto, his wife and his finance minister, has yet to introduce proposed rules to enact the transparency law and there is no date for when entities will have to make additional information – such as travel spending – public.
That has allowed Mexican government employees – even those at the SFP – to live large on foreign trips.
One SFP official, Alejandro Bonilla, in Hawaii for Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, enjoyed the calamari at his hotel in Kona so much he ate three rounds in 24 hours. He said his job managing the government’s contracting policy unit means that he has to attend events such the TPP talks, which included two meetings in Hawaii and one in Guam last year.
Pulido, the SFP’s head of legal affairs, who spent more than $500 on two taxis and two meals in Frankfurt en route to an anti-corruption conference in Kuala Lumpur, said meals and taxis in Frankfurt are expensive and that he still did not spend more than his $450 per diem over the two days he was traveling.
In the United States, government officials are entitled to per diem allowances in limited circumstances and must provide receipts for reimbursements.
The $450 per day allowances for Mexican government workers abroad is more than the U.S. government pays in many U.S. cities but it is below the U.S. rate for some expensive foreign cities, such as London and Paris.
Per diem payments can lead to ‘double dipping’, for instance, if government officials also accept gifts of meals or travel, said Alexandra Wrage, founder of anti-bribery organization TRACE International in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Then the extra is cash in hand for the government official, which is pretty close to a bribe,” she said.
Reuters found no evidence that any of the SFP officials accepted gifts of meals, travel or accommodation while also receiving a full per diem payment.
Andrade defended the per diem, saying that giving employees government funds upfront reinforces the idea that the trip is for official business.
Cerdio, the sandwiches-and-soda employee – who heads the transparency and accountability department – was the only one of 11 public servants who took trips between January and August last year to provide receipts and itemize all of the money that he spent from his $450-a-day-allowance.
Cerdio did not respond to requests for comment.
Garcia, the official who dined at Harrods, handed in most of her receipts.
One of her other meals was at Starbucks, she noted, and she viewed the meal at Harrods as a reward after a tough day working on an extradition process that involved multiple meetings in English discussing unfamiliar British law.
“We don’t have the luxury and privilege to eat in Harrods every day.”
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Simon Gardner and Kieran Murray)
Trending News on PVDN
- Puerto Vallarta News Brief with Felipe Alvarez for May 26, 2023 Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - The Puerto Vallarta News Brief covers the top trending stories of the week on Vallarta Daily News and is hosted by Felipe Alvarez.
- Recent Protests Disrupt 40% of Puerto Vallarta’s Economy Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - Tourism, a critical sector of Puerto Vallarta's economy, has been severely affected by protests, suffering both reputational damage and direct harm to visitors. Alejandro Torres Magaña, General Manager of the Puerto Vallarta Hotel and Motel Association, cited missed flights and hotel delays as significant issues.
- Two More Puerto Vallarta Beaches Are Awarded Blue Flags Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - In the upcoming 2023-2024 season, Puerto Vallarta is set to host six beaches awarded with the Blue Flag accreditation, an esteemed international recognition for high environmental and quality standards. The Blue Flag committee has reconfirmed the status for four previously certified beaches while conferring this prestigious title to two new beaches…
- American Tourist In Critical Condition in Puerto Vallarta After Wave Breaks His Neck Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - "Experiencing your sibling in critical care, confessing your love to him, anticipating the worst... it's a nightmare no one should have to endure," shared Adam Griffis. Adam's younger brother, Evan, is struggling for survival in a medical facility located in Puerto Vallarta. The 30-year-old experienced a freak accident while swimming last…
- Where are the Risk Areas in the Event of an Eruption from the Popocatépetl Volcano Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - In recent days, an eruption from the Popocatépetl volcano spewed incandescent materials, resulting in ashfall across various regions of Mexico City, the State of Mexico, and Puebla. In light of these events, the National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred) has proactively implemented an operational plan, aimed at mitigating potential consequences of…
- Mexico’s Vacation Rental Boom is in Full Swing and Puerto Vallarta Isn’t Left Out Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - The vacation rental industry in Mexico is currently thriving, marking an unparalleled period of success. From January to March 2023, INEGI recorded an impressive influx of nearly 18.8 million international visitors. This figure represents an increase of 3.87 million visitors or 25.9% when compared to the corresponding period in 2022. During…
- Tactical Groups Are Added to the Streets and Beaches of Puerto Vallarta Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - As a component of the safety strategies initiated at the Citizen Security Police Station, members from the Tactical Operations Group (GOT) have been bolstering street patrols all over Puerto Vallarta. Following directives from Commissioner Rigoberto Flores Parra and Mayor Luis Alberto Michel Rodríguez, these officers ensure a visible and protective presence…
- Volcanic Activity in Popocatépetl Disrupts Air Travel to Puerto Vallarta The volcanic activity of Popocatépetl has disrupted a minimum of 12 flights from the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) to Puerto Vallarta, as revealed by the Pacific Airport Group (GAP). The airport in the capital experienced closures that affected flight schedules, beginning Sunday, May 21st, until 1:00 p.m. on Monday, May 22nd. GAP detailed that…
- More Flights to Puerto Vallarta With High Demand, Plus New Route from LA Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - The Director of the Public Trust for Tourism Promotion and Advertising, Luis Villaseñor Nolasco, has announced that Puerto Vallarta will expand its air travel links to both domestic and international locations. Additional flights to this popular beach destination are planned for the coming days. According to Villaseñor Nolasco, there has already…
- Inhabitants of Santiago Xalitzintla Believe Popocatépetl Volcano is Erupting Because They Didn’t Celebrate His Birthday This Year Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) - The volatile temperament of Popocatépetl volcano, characterized by explosive outbursts, fumaroles, ash falls, and powerful seismic activity, is attributed to a straightforward cause by the inhabitants of Santiago Xalitzintla, the community nearest to the massive crater of Puebla's giant. To these residents, the volcano isn't just a natural feature, it's a…