It’s fair to assume that Rolando García Martínez is rarely far from his phone. Admittedly few of us are nowadays, but in his case it must be an even more vital of his working day. That’s because he serves as executive director of Mexico’s (CONAGO), the National Conference of Governors, which this week celebrated its 15th anniversary.
It’s a role which sees him operate at the heart of Mexico’s public debate, one that involves him liaising with the country’s 31 governors and the mayor of Mexico City, as well as leading members of the federal government up to and including President Enrique Peña. Quite a role, then, and one he has held for the past 14 years.
“CONAGO is a very dynamic organisation,” he says. “We’ve had to be, because of the country’s changing political circumstances. CONAGO is an organisation which is populated by leaders who dominate the political life of Mexico, but listening is critical too. It is only through listening to the key issues – some of which come directly from the population, some from the daily operation of local governments, and some from its relationship with the federal government – that we can respond to these problems and address the demands of citizens up and down the country.”
Channelling better government
CONAGO was formed in 2002 in order to lobby the federal government for more resources and greater autonomy for the country’s states and for the capital, Mexico City. As executive director, García Martínez is responsible for responding to and implementing the instructions of the nation’s governors, as well as convening and facilitating their meetings. “This is what an executive director typically does almost anywhere in the world,” he admits. “But that’s only the first part. We also have to maintain what we call the ‘statistics’ – information derived from CONAGO´S activity – as well as deciding what to make public and what should stay private. All of the agreements are public, but the meetings themselves are often private until agreement is reached.”
To this end, CONAGO maintains a private microsite for its own use and its use alone. CONAGO also meets with President Peña every four months – a testament to its importance to public discourse in Mexico. García Martínez, though, is clear that the organisation has to keep evolving. “The issue of unanimity is fundamental,” he says. “Decision-making within CONAGO is still a very complex issue. What is decided today in CONAGO has to go to negotiations with other government entities, because CONAGO has no budget itself to implement the decisions taken there.”
It wasn’t always like that, of course. Today’s political environment in Mexico is far more collaborative in nature than when the organisation was set up. Better relationships and closer cooperation exist now between the federal government, the government of Mexico City and the governors and legislature. The impact of technology and social media has also been significant, he adds.
“Today, the communication mechanisms are far more efficient,” he says. “Take WhatsApp, for example. This is a communication mechanism that has worked wonderfully for us. It has halved my workload, as it allows us to have constant communication with everyone in real time. I remember when, just a few years ago, we would arrive at a hotel with very poor internet – which was quite common in some of the states. At the time we were producing large documents of sometimes up to 100 pages, and we were simply unable to transmit them due to the poor technology and networks. But now our operations are much more efficient. And Twitter and YouTube have also been a great benefit, as they have improved the way we communicate what we do and have raised our profile massively.”
A country as diverse as Mexico, with varying needs and challenges, strengths and weaknesses, will always keep political leaders alert and ready for the unexpected. This is particularly acute for García Martínez and CONAGO members, who have to bridge such differences and strive for a unified front. He admits that this can often be easier said than done.
“The biggest challenge from my point of view is unity,” he says. “We have 32 leaders and constituencies, all with different issues and different political parties, and so developing and achieving agreements in a consensual and unanimous manner has always been our biggest challenge. It’s not about their participation, but more the challenge of constructing agreements that all 32 leaders can sign up to. This isn’t easy – a policy or legislative change will have a different impact on entities in the north and in the south, for example, because they have very different contexts and realities. This means the most important thing is to take decisions unanimously and ensure that they benefit all our entities in the same equitable way.”
Perhaps contrary to initial expectations, the rapid turnover of governors has not proved too problematic, he adds. This is because whoever comes in and out of elected office, CONAGO continues to possess the institutional knowledge. “We had 12 new governors elected in 2016,” he points out, “but because we know the guidelines and what works well, we can always ensure a smooth transition. When a new governor arrives for a meeting, they do not have to discover what is going on – when a new governor joins us, we immediately establish contact with their office to start working with them.”
Some fifteen years on from its creation, García Martínez believes that CONAGO’s public impact rests largely upon its ability to bring the leaders of different entities together. To talk. To discuss. To agree or disagree. This ability, he believes, should not be underestimated – anything but.
“This is our first great achievement,” he says firmly. “We have dialogue with every political entity in the country. Our relationship is not only with the federal government and the congress but also with the local congresses, the municipalities and civil society. CONAGO is a mechanism that listens and is a mechanism that transmits and connects decision-makers with the people. This provides the basis for CPI’s Public Impact Fundamentals of legitimacy, policy and action, which I agree with 100%.”
Going forward, he has no doubt that Mexico is well placed for a prosperous future – and that CONAGO will continue to play a key role. “I foresee a country totally immersed in growth, but also in development,” he concludes. “I am convinced that the conditions are right for this to happen. Mexico is already a democratic country, and it has mechanisms that work very well for democratic decision-making, but I see us becoming a country blessed with greater economic development and with less inequality. CONAGO will be here to help bridge differences and help construct all entities to make this vision a reality.”
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