No smoke without fire: corruption perceptions on an upwards curve

1 October 2017

Perceptions of corruption, as measured by organisations like Transparency International (TI), provide only a proxy for the problem itself, but they show how significant an issue corruption has become.

Proética, the Peruvian branch of TI and the NGO most proactively involved in revealing the scale of corruption, has just published its tenth report since 2002 into such perceptions. It makes for worrying reading.

More than 70% of those interviewed say that corruption has increased in the last five years. Among the institutions seen to be most afflicted are the Congress and the judiciary. A large majority of congressmen and judges are deemed to be involved in corrupt activities, as are the large majority of businessmen.

According to Walter Albán, the head of Proética and the former acting Defensor del Pueblo (ombudsman), perceptions of corruption are seen as the single most important problem confronting people in the interior of the country.

The scale of corruption itself is always difficult to measure, but perceptions have probably increased as a consequence of the Lava Jato investigations into big-time business corruption. These, as readers of the PSG Newsletter will know, have led to the imprisonment of one former president (Ollanta Humala) and extradition proceedings launched against another (Alejandro Toledo).

Interestingly, neither are seen by the public as the main culprits. The government of Alan García (2006-11) is viewed as the single most corrupt, followed by that of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). Fujimori, of course, is himself serving a lengthy prison sentence for corruption (as well as human rights crimes), at least until his possible release (see next article). Alan García, meanwhile, roams scot-free, twittering his innocence from Madrid.

Part of the problem with corruption, as the Proética study suggests, is that it erodes public faith in democratic institutions. Comparative surveys, like that of the annual Latinobarómetro poll, put Peru near (or at) the bottom of the countries ranked with relation to public faith in such institutions.

A worrying aspect of this is the apparent widespread indifference towards corruption, especially ‘minor’ corruption in the public administration, the police and judicial services. Many view corruption as just part of the natural order, the price paid to get things done. Indeed, in Peru there is a marked tolerance for politicians who, though widely viewed as corrupt, ensure that public works are carried out.

Even more worrying is the penetration of organised crime into public life. Nearly 70% of those interviewed by Proética are convinced that this is the case. Indeed, numerous other reports have drawn attention to the way in which illegal mafias (especially those involved in drug trafficking) find the need to buy politicians and judges to protect their business interests. Peru, of course, is not alone in this; the problem is probably worse in Mexico and some countries in Central America. But this is of little consolation to those who look to the political and justice systems in Peru to produce decisions in the best interests of the wider public.

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  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

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