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Opinion
Liébano Sáenz
Liébano Sáenz Responsibility vs. Popularity The Valley of Mexico suffers serious problems in air quality as a result of a popular decision, but clearly detrimental to public health
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In memory of Mónica Arriola Gordillo

Invariably, politics pose dilemmas which very often deal with deciding between what the people want and what should be done. Wanting and duty. The issue, which is no small matter, has to do with the nature of the request. What whole the voting majority choose? Specific decisions or a reliable person who they granted the power of decision. This is a functioning government.

I believe that the leaders and the people’s representatives are elected to decide, not no transfer responsibility to others. Public consultations are heard well and look even better because they project an aura of tolerance and sensitivity, although in many cases, they are just a means of avoiding decisions. Conduction surveys can be an useful and convenient resource, if it not used to avoid talking a position or make a decision. There are technical or particularly complex issues that demand the opinion of experts and the public or private expression of those interested in them. However, good decisions are not always the most popular. That needs to be addressed, because a government that acts following the pulse of the fickle public opinion is a government without direction or destination. That is why there are means to direct democracy.

Politics require a minimum level of responsibility where all matters should be settled, especially those that are delicate. The problem is not dissent, let alone debate. The common disease that debases democracy os opportunism, that predisposition to act or decide only to please others, forgetting the mission to solve things and the probable cost of misunderstanding or rejection. Indeed, doing the right thing is sometimes at odds with what is acceptable. Even following the winds of the popular can lead to decisions contrary to public interest and common good.

From this perspective, we can better understand the context that led to reverse one of the best decisions, however uncomfortable, to improve air quality in the Valley of Mexico: the Hoy No Circula vehicular transit restriction program.

The results are visible. The reversal of environmental degradation lends credit to the measure as an example of a responsible but thankless decision. Unfortunately, today the Valley of Mexico again suffers serious problems in air quality as a result of another decision, perhaps popular, but clearly detrimental to public health.

This relates to the initiative of the National Action Party’s (PAN) leadership in Mexico City, presented in 2014, to reject the Hoy No Circula and the obligatory Vehicle Emissions Testing programs. The leader of the PAN, Mauricio Tabe Echartea, invited the people protesting about the programs to seek a collective amparo (a Mexican constitutional legal process that protects the citizen and his basic rights) and they were even given general formats to file it on the official website of the PAN. On Aug. 29, 2014, a federal judge ruled an amparo that allowed the complainant to test their vehicle for emissions regardless of the year or model of the car. The hologram stamp only depended on gas emissions.

The court ruling led to the modification of the Hoy No Circula program to allow the daily circulation of old vehicles. Thus, 600,000 cars and trucks were left to run, without restriction, through the streets. The loss of fluidity in traffic and the increase of polluting vehicles soon showed their negative impact on air quality. A decisions that proved its effectiveness for decades was reversed. It is unclear if it made people vote for the PAN during the 2015 elections. I think the results show it did not. The only obvious thing was the serious impact on the population.

The promoters of change can argue the injustice that the program represents for those who own old vehicles that do not pollute, and the fact that new vehicles are not exempt from having high emissions. It may be, but public policies are validated by their results. I also believe that such a decision imposed serious pressure to the vehicle emissions testing program, which led to corruption and the consequent pass to polluting vehicles. In addition, the fact of increasing the quantity of vehicles affects traffic and, therefore, creates more pollution.

The argument that notes the inequity of owning an older model of car which doesn’t pollute is worth considering. In fact, it is likely that this led the judge to grant the amparo. However, the decision didn’t foresee the collateral and particular effect: The serious deterioration of air quality.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has talked about the issue and has called on the states and levels of government to reach an agreement and define a new emerging standard. He has also instructed Rafael Pacchiano, head of the Natural Resources and Environmental Secretariat (Semarnat), to implement complementary or corrective measures to the environmental programs in coordination with the authorities of the Valley of Mexico within 60 days. The focus is on improving the technology of the vehicle emissions testing centers and the quality of the test in order to reduce the number of polluting vehicles.

The decisions to consider are many. One, which is a must, has to do with the substantial increase in public transport investment and the promotion of “green” means of transportation such as bicycles. Much has been done in this matter, but we still need to implement more actions and we also require society to have greater alertness against the populism of politicians and the vociferous and disproportionate claims of a noisy minority.

Some megacities have established the payment of a tax in order to drive in the first circle of the city. This measure, which may be uncomfortable, has many virtues, especially if it is accompanied by an improved public transport and incentives for the use of bicycles. This would be a reasonable measure to adopt, considering that Mexico City has one of the best climates in the world.

Current requirements of good governance involve greater responsibility. Authorities should not be afraid of rejection or criticism if duty is on the line. Given the political dilemmas, decisions that benefit the majority of the population must be chosen. This is the case of the decision to improve air quality for those who live and enjoy Mexico City.

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