Writting by Antonio Peña Jumpa (*)
Fifteen years have passed since the earthquake in Pisco on 15 August 2007, but the reconstruction process is still ongoing. There are still half-built houses or buildings, unoccupied or «abandoned»; land of what were once dwellings, constructions pending demolition, wooden or prefabricated houses covered by a concrete façade, and much land in conflict. Why not at least complete the reconstruction of the pre-earthquake dwellings?
The answer to the question posed relates to the role of the authorities in charge of reconstruction and the misuse of state or public funds provided for this purpose. The core of this answer is that the central government authorities, as well as the regional and local government authorities, were not prepared to understand and face the effects of the disaster, did not know how to carry out the reconstruction, and ended up involved in acts of corruption that to date remain unprosecuted and unsanctioned.
The central government set up an entity to manage reconstruction after the earthquake: the Fund for the Integral Reconstruction of the Areas Affected by the Earthquake of 15 August 2007 (FORSUR). However, this entity was not efficient in reconstruction for two main reasons: the delay in the delivery of funds from the central government, and the slow bureaucracy with which it operated because it was subject to the central government itself for approving reconstruction projects (experience in Pisco, 2007-2009).
This inefficient management of FORSUR, which was contrary to the urgent needs of the affected population, justified the direct intervention of the authorities of the central, regional, and local governments. The authorities were favoured by the declaration of the state of emergency to implement projects in a discretionary manner using public funds.
In the end, both interventions turned out to be a failure for the victims: neither FORSUR nor the state authorities fulfilled their role of managing the reconstruction and supporting the victims. The lack of coordination between the authorities and FORSUR, and between the authorities themselves at central, regional, and local levels, as well as the lack of information and transparency, led to despair, frustration, and resignation among the victims.
More than 1 billion dollars were spent from the national treasury and the reconstruction of Pisco and other affected provinces such as Chincha, Ica, Cañete, Yauyos, Huaytará and Castrovirreyna was not completed. In Pisco, not even an intermediate level of satisfaction was reached among the victims who supposedly benefited from any of the projects.
The worst result is that, on the one hand, many of the works or projects ended in corruption, and, on the other hand, this corruption still goes unpunished, without justice. Thus, on the one side, the result of corruption could be seen in the perception of the population and in the testimonies of many concerned citizens when they stated that «all projects ended in corruption»; (Pisco, 2008-2011). The authority could charge from 10 to 35% (illegal) commissions for projects or works, depending on the degree of intervention and the value (or overvalue) of the project or work: the more discretionary the authority’
s decision and the higher the value of the work, the more (illegal) commissions were charged.
We can graph the action of the corrupt authority under the following procedure: a work valued at 100 units, could have a first discount of 30 units for the illegal commission of the authorities (crimes of collusion or bribery in aggravated form), to which was added a second discount of 30 units for the profit of the private entity that got the award or good pro (a profit that followed the sense of corruption of the authority) and then had to be added at least 10 units or 10% of administrative expenses. The total of discounts would reach 70 units or 70% of the value of the work. In the end, the work valued at 100 units had only 30 units or 30% of its budget to be executed, leaving it defective, unfinished, or suspended for non-compliance.
On the other side, the judicial result of sanctioning these different forms of corruption does not yet exist because they have remained unpunished to date, awaiting justice. Despite the numerous cases and facts known or denounced, there is no prosecutor, administrative or legislative investigation that has resulted in a judicial process to sanction these acts of corruption. The affected population knew about it and said so publicly but had no way of channelling their feelings against corruption. Neither the Comptroller General’s Office, nor the Public Prosecutor’s Office, nor the judiciary fulfilled their role. Even less the Congress of the Republic, which did not approve in its commissions the reports that could lead to denouncing the actions of the high authorities of the State.
The end is what we are experiencing today: unfinished reconstruction, ex-authorities, or politicians illegally enriched, and a resigned affected population, accustomed to the failure of their rulers and without justice.
What to do?
If the authorities of the Jurisdictional Power (the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office) are no longer able to intervene and fulfil their function due to the years that have passed, a social proposal is needed: a truth commission. The affected population and those who lived through the unfinished reconstruction can still tell the truth.
However, it is still in the hands of this jurisdictional branch of the Peruvian state to try to do justice. The statute of limitations has not yet expired on the different applicable crimes of corruption, and the affected population, the current population and those of us who were voluntarily involved in the reconstruction in one way or another aspire to justice being done. Failure to do so would lead to another disaster: one of functional and legal irresponsibility for denying justice.
Lima, 12, 16 and 17 September 2022
(*) About the author: Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and lecturer at the Universidad Nacional
Mayor de San Marcos. Lawyer, master’s in social sciences and PhD in Laws.