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Listening to Peruvian media in recent days, there is one question that keeps reappearing – is corruption winning in our country? Over half of Peru’s population perceives corruption to be the main problem facing the country, according to the 2010 National Corruption Perceptions Survey. This Andean country, as others in Latin America, has been affected by recurrent corruption scandals in the highest spheres of politics and government in the past years. The last few days have shown that his year will be no exception.
Peru’s vice-president, Omar Chehade, is undergoing investigations by the national congress and the attorney general for allegedly asking police generals to vacate land to support a powerful business group involved in a dispute to gain control of a sugar production factory. If these allegations prove to be true, he is facing an embarrassing case of cronyism.
This latest scandal has characteristics common to most high-level Peruvian corruption stories regardless of the political color of the government in power.
Firstly, most of these scandals trigger debates between political factions and opinion leaders that echo in the press for months, just as is happening now. For example, the corruption scandals linked to former president Alberto Fujimori became a dramatic television reality show from the late 1990s onwards. Be it the screening of hundreds of videos documenting the head advisor of the intelligence service bribing and extorting politicians, businessmen, and journalists, or the widely broadcast Fujimori court case, television channels dedicated thousands of hours to the topic.
A second characteristic is the weakness of political parties. According to Cecilia Blondet, who heads Proética, Transparency International’s National Chapter in Peru, “the lack of well-established and institutionalized parties frequently translates into a lack of mechanisms for the selection of members and qualified candidates for political office. This can lead parties to accept individuals with personal agendas, low ethical standards and little loyalty to institutions or ideas making them more susceptible to bribery.” Arguably, this could also be a factor in the Chehade case.
Finally, politicians do not necessarily get away with corrupt behavior. As wrongdoings become public, political and even judicial sanctions tend to follow. For example, when the prime minister of the previous government was said to be involved in acts of corruption, he had to step down. At the time of writing, the national congress’ Ethics Commission has already recommended Chehade’s suspension for a period of 120 days to allow for investigations determining whether formal charges will be pressed to move ahead.
Despite all these parallels to previous corruption scandals, this case has the potential to stand out if it serves as a reminder of the election promises made to the Peruvian people. Peru’s current president Ollanta Humala came to power this year in July following a campaign based on very strong anti-corruption messages. The government now needs to make use of this opportunity to show that campaign promises can turn into reality.
After having raised expectations, the president has the duty to let actions follow words at a time when corruption is high on the media’s agenda not only proving that individuals cannot circumvent state institutions and laws but also implementing a wide range of anti-corruption policies. This is not about which political group is in power at a certain moment in time but about real concerns of the people. Now, it is the government’s responsibility to make sure that corruption does not win in Peru.
Alejandro Salas is the Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption, active in more than 100 countries around the world. Twitter @ASalasTI The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International.