Despite spending his adult life in a political system where public service is seen as a route to self-enrichment, Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has revealed that he has a little less than $23,00 in savings. In his first financial declaration since taking office on 1 December, the leftwing president also said that his wife makes slightly more than he does and owns the Mexico City apartment where the couple live.
“I’ve never been interested in money,” López Obrador, 65, told reporters. “I fight for ideals, for principles.”
The title to a 1.2-hectare ranch inherited from his parents in southern Chiapas state, meanwhile, is already in the names his four sons, he said.
López Obrador, popularly know as Amlo, has promised to govern with frugality, and cut his own pay to about $65,000 a year – less than half of what his predecessor made. His wife, author and academic Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, makes about $72,000.
He has also pledged to sell off the presidential plane, traveling instead on commercial flights and a Volkswagen Jetta.
At his morning press conference on Friday, Amlo said he didn’t have a credit card and hasn’t had a checking account for years. He pulled a US $2 bill out of his wallet – given to him as a good luck token by a Mexican living in the US – insisting it and a 200 peso note was all he had with him.
His display of personal austerity contrasts dramatically with other Mexican politicians. The administration of his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto was marked by a string of corruption scandals.
Amlo’s allies in Congress followed up his pay cut by approving a bill forbidding public servants from earning more than the president. The supreme court, whose justices are paid £10,900 monthly plus generous benefits, later ruled against the pay cuts.
“The economic logic of [high wages for politicians] has been: if you’re not generous and paying them, they’ll steal it. But they’re generous and [politicians and functionaries] are stealing anyway,” said Federico Estévez, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.
Public servants have pushed back against the proposed pay cuts, which include benefits being slashed – such as private healthcare plans. The Banco de México announced Thursday it would challenge the law in court. More than 15,000 bureaucrats have obtained injunctions, protecting themselves from the pay cuts.
“There’s a lot of waste in government,” said Valeria Moy, director of México ¿cómo vamos?, a thinktank. “I don’t see the waste in the wages of public servants.”