By Leon Trahtemberg


Peru’s history has been one of successive cycles of corruption, followed by very brief periods of anticorruption reform. These reform periods were ultimately held back by vast personal interests contrary to stopping the corruption.


In the book Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru (2008), Alfonso Quiroz calculates the Peruvian state’s direct and indirect losses because of corruption between the years 1820 and 2000 (including embezzlement and inefficient or unproductive investments for corrupt means). Quiroz finds continuous losses of between 30 and 40 percent of the national budget — between 3 and 4 percent of annual GDP.


If attaining development in Peru requires an annual growth of between 5 and 8 percent of GDP, we are talking about a loss of half of the resources necessary to become a developed country. To that we add the non-monetary costs of corruption: a structural endemic of the country’s politic and public life, a factor to motivate military coupes and the installation of authoritarian governments and dictators that add even more impediments to our ideal of a society that is formal and disciplined, respects its laws, democracy and human rights.


The systematic presence of corruption in Peru is intimately tied to a political tradition that centralized control of national wealth and executive powers, without corresponding checks and balances.


Imagine if this 3 percent of GDP, stolen by corruption, were invested systematically in education so as to reach 6 percent of GDP, as developed countries do? Peru could have the best education in the world. Unfortunately, we have one of the worst, thanks to corruption.


Is it still tenable to argue that a government which completes projects is pardoned from committing corruption? Embezzling from public works, taking bribes from bidders, investing in goods and services to get a slice of the pie — is it pardonable if the fruits of the public works are indeed visible?


Let’s think about what was not done because of the corruption. Maybe that will better orient us in our future votes.

Leon Trahtemberg is the author of 14 books and currently works as a business administration consultant. He also holds conferences on all topics related to education and social responsibility. This article first appeared in Correo, and was adapted from Spanish by Nathan Paluck.