February 25, 2015 / 12:16 AM / 5 years ago

Mexican parties say deal reached on anti-corruption bill

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Leaders in Mexico’s lower house of Congress said on Tuesday they have reached agreement on an anti-corruption bill, delivering a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is trying to free himself from a damaging conflict of interest row.

The bill, which strengthens oversight of public officials and designates a special prosecutor to tackle corruption, follows months of stalled efforts to pass anti-graft measures and criticism of the government for neglecting the problem.

Passage of the bill could ease pressure on Pena Nieto, whose focus on reforming the struggling economy has been overshadowed by scandals highlighting rampant impunity in Mexico. However, even if the new measures are enacted, critics question whether they will be strictly enforced.

Manlio Fabio Beltrones, lower house leader of Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said he and the main opposition parties had reached “general agreement” on the bill, and expected voting to begin in coming days.

Beltrones’ counterpart in the centre-right opposition National Action Party (PAN), Ricardo Anaya, called the accord “historic” and said it would help Mexico attack “the most serious problem facing the country today: corruption.”

Last year, Pena Nieto, his wife and his finance minister became embroiled in a scandal over their use of houses built by a major government contractor just as Mexico was suffering international condemnation over the disappearance of 43 students apparently massacred by a drug gang working with corrupt police.

Earlier this month, Pena Nieto ordered an investigation into whether use of the houses had created any conflict of interest. By then, however, his spokesman had already said no laws had been broken and that no mea culpa would be offered.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico continuously for seven decades, had become a byword for corruption by the time it was voted out of office in 2000. It was then side-lined for 12 years.

Opposition parties have also been rocked by corruption scandals, undermining confidence in the political system.

The package of measures under discussion replaces a separate anti-corruption bill passed by the Senate that stalled in the lower house when the PRI and the opposition failed to agree.

If passed in the lower house, the new anti-corruption bill would still require Senate approval.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Anahi Rama. Editing by Andre Grenon

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