A $15.5M Surveillance System for Tijuana, But Who Paid for It?

City-wide security system is enviable design, but question surrounds who paid, who did the work

GarcĂ­a said he and the other command center staffers work for the city of Tijuana. The contracting company's duties, he said, involve installation, fixing technological glitches and training.

Critics say the company's exact role and access to the system is unclear. Global Corp. has an office in the same building as the command center, even though GarcĂ­a said it worked off-site.

Speaking from Mexico City, Pedro Flores said he oversees a consortium of security companies including the one in Tijuana, but he couldn't say who owns them.

"Our company is funded by different institutions, and I wouldn't be able to say who benefits from that," Flores said.

He said the companies are registered in Mexico City and declined to comment on specifics of the contract, citing confidentiality agreements.

None of the city officials in Tijuana contacted this week mentioned any confidentiality clause.

"I'm just interested in the results," said Kurt Honold, the interim mayor who is a close associate of Hank. "It's a very good project."

The company's name first showed up in a city budget report from December 2004, when Hank became mayor. At that time, about 9 million pesos -- or $835,000 -- was earmarked for the company.

Hank said this week that the city hired the company during his mayoral campaign "to do the design and everything." After he was elected, "We had a bid and they won," he said.

PAN council members said there was no public bid for the bulk of the project, in part because the PRI majority rewrote city codes in 2005 to bypass the bidding process for public security systems.

Hank said the Electronic Government Program was paid for by shifting funds in the city's budget, though some of the cameras were donated by local businesses such as his own.

Tijuana had an annual budget of about $282 million in 2006, according to the city's Web site.

PAN officials said no one ever explained to them how the equivalent of 6 percent of the city's annual budget was found for the program.

Budget documents show that about $7 million has gone to Global Sight since 2004, but PAN council members said additional money may be listed in different budget categories.

Frustrated with the lack of information, they voted against motions that paved the way for the program's implementation, such as one that changed traffic codes to include the use of technology.

The motions nonetheless passed, because the PRI has a majority on the council.

In December 2006, the PRI majority voted to extend the contract -- this time naming Global Corp. -- to 10 years. A copy of the motion says this was needed to guarantee "the legal certainty in regard to investments, capital recuperation terms, and to avoid the actualization of damages."

No further information was provided. Hank said the company was receiving a portion of the collected speeding fines, but he didn't know how much.

"The law gives the mayor certain abilities to make these decisions, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't inform us," said Raúl Castañeda Pomposo, a PAN councilman who is a member of the City Council's Public Security Commission.

The San Diego Union-Tribune filed a public information request regarding part of the program: handheld computers that police use to record traffic infractions and collect payments through credit cards.

In a written response, Tijuana officials said the computers were acquired at "no cost." When asked if they were donations, the city didn't answer. Instead, officials wrote back that the computers are part of the Electronic Government Program.

Allegations of government secrecy in public matters aren't limited to the PRI in Tijuana. In 2002, a Baja California newspaper, La CrĂłnica, reported that the Mexicali city government bought cars from a dealership owned by Gov. Eugenio Elorduy Walther without conducting a thorough bidding process, as well as other alleged misdeeds by PAN governments.

César René Blanco Villalón, co-editor of Zeta, a Tijuana weekly that regularly does investigative reporting, said such stories don't typically lead to changes, in part because a disillusioned public doesn't push for them. Zeta has written two stories about the surveillance company's secrecy.