Out of control?

1 July 2017

The comptroller-general, Edgar Alarcón, is at the centre of a major political row, following the drip-feed of recorded conversations between himself and key government ministers. The first tape to emerge was of a conversation with the former minister of economy and finance, Alfredo Thorne. It helped trigger the minister’s resignation last month. The tape centred on the government’s acceptance of contractual changes for building and managing the new airport at Chinchero in Cuzco.

The subsequent debate relates to Alarcon’s role as overseer of the Chinchero airport project and the price to be paid (to the benefit of the Contraloría’s budget) if he kept a critical report under wraps. Alarcón is also separately accused of corrupt activities, and his future may be decided this coming week.

Whatever the justification for the comptroller’s criticisms of public works contracts, there can be little doubt that the criticisms have been used politically to discredit the government. Alarcón has clearly been working closely with the pro-Fujimori opposition to this end; in part, it would seem, to save his own skin.

A further tape, of which two sections have been released in recent days, relates to a conversation between Alarcón and the prime minister (and now economy and finance minister) Fernando Zavala, Thorne and Martín Vizcarra, the former minister of transport and communications. In it the ministers pleaded with Alarcón about the importance of not upsetting the schedule for other key projects, including the Southern Peru Gas Pipeline, the new metro line in Lima and the Talara oil refinery.

The release of the latest tape, presumably secretly recorded by Alarcón, appears to be designed to maximise the discomfiture of the ministers concerned. This is particularly the case for Zavala who, as both prime minister and now finance minister, occupies an absolutely key role in government. Two fragments from the tapes of meetings have now been played on Beto Ortiz’s programme on Channel 9. They are clearly designed to counteract accusations concerning alleged malpractice on Alarcón’s part and to tilt debate against the ministers, particularly Zavala. The text of the leaks can be found here.

Héctor Becerril, one of the sharpest of the Fujimorista sharp-shooters in Congress, has called for Zavala to answer questions in Congress. This could be the prelude to moves to censure him.

The whole operation smacks of the tactics used in the 1990s by Vladimiro Montesinos. He routinely used secretly recorded conversations to besmirch the reputations of perceived adversaries during the government of Alberto Fujimori. He used a pliant mass media to this end. The role of journalists like Ortiz in providing a channel for the steady flow of leaks harks back to that time.

As La República argues in a persuasive editorial, the Comptroller-General’s office, like the National Intelligence Service (SIN) under Montesinos, looks as though it has become an office of state through which political vendettas are pursued in ways highly prejudicial to the stability of government in Peru.

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