Congress Files Constitutional Complaint against President Vicente Fox for Decision on Purchases of Electric Power

Article excerpt

In an unprecedented move, the Mexican Congress has filed a complaint with the country's highest court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN) accusing President Vicente Fox Quesada of violating the Constitution by taking unilateral steps to open up the country's electric-power sector.

The complaint, presented in early July, questions the decree published in the federal register (Diario Oficial de la Federacion) on May 24 that announced the federal government's plans to expand the amount of electricity that private companies can sell to the state-run power company Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).

In the decree, the Fox administration proposed to modify Articles 126 and 135 of the Constitution. The changes would allow companies that have their own generating capacity to sell as much as 20 megawatts per day of electricity to the CFE as long the supply plant has a daily capacity of 40 MW daily.

But the complaint filed by Congress charges that Fox proposed the policy changes without allowing input from the legislature, which violates Articles 73 and 89 of the Constitution. These articles clearly define the roles of the executive and legislative branches in modifying laws relating to areas covered by the Constitution, including the electric-power sector.

The SCJN complaint, presented by the standing joint committee of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies (Comision Permanente), gained support from all parties represented in Congress. "The ultimate goal is to preserve the rights and responsibilities of the Congress," the committee said in a statement.

Under existing protocol, Fox has 30 days from the time the complaint was filed with the SCJN to present a formal response. Even after Fox responds to the allegations, the matter may not be resolved until at least the end of this year or early 2002, said Deputy Salvador Rocha Diaz of the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Justice Genaro David Gongora Pimental confirmed that the SCJN has accepted the case. He pledged that the court would examine the issue within the parameters established by the Mexican Constitution and not allow political considerations to influence its verdict, as has been the case in the recent past. "In this time of change, there are no more special arrangements and political pressures," Gongora told reporters.

PAN reluctantly joins proceedings

Fox's center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) supported the complaint, even though party members did not necessarily question Fox's motivation nor did they believe the president had violated the Constitution. Sen. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, leader of the PAN delegation in the Senate, explained that his party wanted to join other parties in upholding the role of the legislative branch in constitutional matters. "We do not think the complaint will prosper, but we are leaving it to the high court to make the decision," said Fernandez de Cevallos.

Legislators from other parties, however, disagreed with the PAN assessment that Fox had not violated the Constitution.

"The president's declarations suggest his intention to expand the magnitude of private investment in the electric sector, thus bypassing the limits established by law," said PRI Sen. Enrique Jackson Ramirez.

Fox said he supported the intervention of the judicial branch in the matter. But he also said his administration was acting in the best interests of Mexico with the decision to expand the CFE's purchases from the private sector. "The debate should not be about Vicente Fox," said the president. "We should be discussing whether we want to have sufficient electric power in the coming years or whether we want to experience continued blackouts."

The CFE has suspended any new purchases of electricity from private sources until the constitutional question is settled. CFE director Alfredo Elias Ayub said this meant the agency would also suspend ongoing negotiations to acquire electric power from the state-run oil company PEMEX, which in recent years has developed the capability to produce its own electric power. …