Challenges for transparency in Peruvian education

Samuel Rotta Castilla, 13th IACC, Workshop contribution, Civil Society

Transparency in education management workshop

Challenges for transparency in Peruvian education: Evidence from anticorruption intervention at subnational level

Samuel Rotta Castilla

Proética, Peruvian chapter of Transparency International


This text discusses three questions regarding the promotion of transparency in the education sector at the subnational level:  1) is it possible to increase the transparency of the sector at in the local context?, 2) is it appropriated? and 3) is it useful to curb corruption?  These reflections arise from two recent experiences of Proética, the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International, promoting the fight against corruption in the education sector and addressing the problems of corruption in the delivery of basic social services, like education, in zones of rural poverty of Perú. 

1. Introduction

Proética has been promoting anticorruption policies at subnational levels since 2003[1].  An axis of our work has been the identification of risks of corruption in different fields of the regional public management[2].  We made five studies of that kind between 2004 and 2006.  As a whole, those risk maps showed us the existence of three main risks or general conditions in the five regions[3], in different institutions, setting a scenario where acts of corruption have high possibilities of being done successfully, therefore allowing the reproduction of corruption.  These conditions are:

  1. The lack of transparency and accountability over the management of public resources (either economic, human or of some other nature).
  2. The weakness of the formal mechanisms and procedures to monitor the management of the resources (including the lack of sanctions leading to impunity).
  3. The lack of civil society’s capacities to monitor and access to information. 

This risks-based scheme became the conceptual framework for Proética’s initiatives against corruption in the last two years.  In this brief paper I will try to articulate some reflections regarding the promotion of transparency (and anticorruption, in general) in poor zones from the evidence brought by two of those initiatives:  1) the campaign Education Without Corruption, jointly with the Ombudsman Office, from mid 2006 to the beginning of 2008;  and 2) a research on the delivery of education in zones of extreme poverty[4], recently completed (we are preparing the final report).

2. The experiences in short

a. Education Without Corruption – a campaign

In the latter half of 2006, Proética and the Peruvian Ombudsman Office (Defensoría del Pueblo –DP—) joined forces to fight corruption in the public education system.  DP and Proética launched an advocacy campaign aimed at turn anticorruption into a key component of the reforms on the education.  We followed the assumption that corruption plays an important role in shaping the poor academic results showed by the education system in both national and international evaluations. 

The strategy sought to expose problems of corruption in the education sector in a number of regions[5] as reported by citizens to the DP’s decentralized offices.  An analysis of the citizens’ complaints received after an awareness-raising effort[6]  produced a report which mostly verified the general risks of corruption –previously described—and exposed their specific manifestations in the education sector, highlighting the disorganization of the sector to fight corruption and the lack of access to information on the side of the population –including information about their basic rights—.  The report also showed the most common types of corruption reported, for example:  bribes in recruitment and allocation of teachers, payments for good grading in the schools and irregularities in different formal procedures.

Based upon the legitimacy of the DP, the campaign included a permanent communication channel with the national and regional authorities of the sector.  This allowed us to discuss with the Ministry of Education the main findings.  This institution created a commission to review and evaluate our recommendations, and up to date they have implemented some normative changes regarding the sanction mechanisms.[7]

Box 1 – Basic information about the campaign

·         This experience addressed the problem of the weakness of the sector to fight corruption, exposing the inefficiencies brought up by the coexistence of different entities and procedures to make denounces of corruption, the lack of clarity regarding their competences, the lack of resources of all of them to carry investigations and, finally, exposing that all of them were permeated by the three risks of corruption, making them, in turn, prone to get corrupted too.

·         We worked at subnational level with key stakeholders like educative regional and provincial authorities, principals and teachers who put a complaint against the sector before the DP in the past, leaders of teachers unions and leaders of parents of students associations.

·         The two main challenges faced were:  1) people’s distrust against the State in general.  Regarding this point was useful present the campaign as a joint public-private initiative, besides the own institutional legitimacy of the DP built over ten years of proven autonomy.  2) The sector’s distrust against the interference of “foreign” institutions (including an NGO).  To deal with this challenge we implemented the mentioned communication channel with the authorities.

·         The accountability mechanism used was the complaint of the citizen against the State, in particular the sector.  We informed some key actors in terms of what is corruption in the sector, how it presents and that they have the right to demand a high quality service, thus empowering them to complaint.

b. Delivery of social services in zones of poverty – a research

Ensure health and education is the most basic function that a State must fulfill in order to guarantee minimum social conditions for human development of all of its citizens.  Following this assumption we wanted to analyze how corruption is present in the provision of these social services in districts of extreme rural poverty of the regions where we were working at the time.

We designed and conducted a research in twelve extremely poor districts (two in each region) in two stages:  1) in the first one we identified the main problems regarding the delivery of education and health in those districts through interviews and observation, and priorized three of those problems to continue the research.  This stage was carried in districts and peasant communities.  2) In the second stage we analyzed those functions and activities of the sectors related with the problems selected and tried to identify risks of corruption in them.  This stage was carried vertically through the sectors from the regional level to the district[8].

Problem priorized


Function analyzed

Lack of text books and teaching materials in the schools


Distribution of text books


Procurement and distribution of teaching materials

Lack of medicines in the health posts


Procurement and distribution of medicines

Delays in the delivery of nutritional complements for  infants and children

PRONAA[9]/ Education

Procurement and distribution of breakfasts for children in the schools

PRONAA/ Health

Procurement and distribution of nutritional rations for children in the health posts

Box 2 – Basic information about the research

·         The research did not verified the common causal relation that states that corruption affects poverty, but make it more complex exposing that there is an intrincated bond between inefficiency, poverty of the very State –which is more prevalent in the education sector—, poverty of the society and perceptions and possibilities for petty corruption to occur.

·         Key informants were parents, teachers and principals during the first stage of the research and sector’s public officers in charge of the different phases of procurement and distribution of teaching materials and text books in the second stage.

·         The main challenge was (is) placed in the side of the theoretical limitations to make an interpretation of the mentioned complexity found.  This is still a pending task in the institution since the field work finished very short time ago.

·         Another finding of the research was that in rural zones almost do not exist accountability mechanisms since we can barely speak about citizens and modern State in the reality.  This issue feeds the third of the questions that this paper addresses, that is why it could be better not to write further here.

c. Notes on the differences between the initiatives

There are a couple of things to take into account regarding these initiatives before discussing the obstacles to transparency found in the field.

The first one is their nature.  One is an advocacy campaign to achieve a specific goal:  to include the topic of anticorruption in the specialized debate on educative changes.  It did include a research component to analyze the complaints received, but it was only a stream line among others (the informative campaign and the advocacy in the sector authorities).  The other experience is a research in all its extent, so the resources were aimed to increase the knowledge on the general topic of corruption and poverty.

The second relevant consideration is the scope of the initiatives.  The campaign Education Without Corruption was urban, since the decentralized offices of the DP are placed in the capital city of the regions, and even when some of them managed to make informational visits to schools in the rural scope, this kind of activity was not numerous and depended on the budget of the offices.  On the other side, the research on poverty and corruption started focusing in the performance of the State in extremely poor rural districts, and from there we continued analyzing how the education and health sectors in superior levels (provinces and regions) work regarding the priorized problems in those places.

3. Questioning the assumptions or points for discussion

These interventions let us know a little bit more of the relationship between corruption and poverty, trough the analysis of the delivery of basic social services like education.  The impressions and data collected generated three questions over our main institutional assumptions, specially the meaning of transparency in zones of poverty and the ways to promote it in the sector.  I would like to share and explain these questions next.

a. Is it possible to increase transparency in this sector?

At subnational levels what prevails at first sight is the disorder of the sector.  When this is seen with more detail and depth a profound fragmentation appears, both horizontally and vertically across the sector.

For example, there are no formal channels to communicate between the UGEL[10] and the schools to deliver the teaching materials.  Principals interviewed told us that they had to go to the UGEL’s building frequently to check if the materials were available.  If they were lucky, they could have some of the materials, depending on the negotiation between them and the officer in charge of the warehouse.  If there were not any materials yet, the principals could look around for some friends and try to get some information about when it could be to avoid travel again and again.  It must be noted that in many cases we are talking about schools placed far away from the capital cities of the provinces, many hours (or even days) away, through roads in very bad situation.

But horizontally there are communication gaps too.  Inside the institutions of the education sector we realized the lack of formal channels of communication between different offices.  In general, each public officer knows his or her duties, but he or she is not aware of the impact generated by his or her level of efficiency over the whole system.  We did not registered something as basic as periodical meetings to evaluate a process, discuss problems and find solutions.

The disorder and the fractures bring a deficit of information suffered by the very sector.  In order to accomplish our research we had to recreate the processes of procurement and distribution of teaching materials, which supposedly might be written and ruled somewhere, but which were not.  The public officers in charge of execute them demonstrated know only their respective tile, so each interview gave us one piece of the “puzzle”.

The inevitable question was:  if the sector does not know what it does, how can we ask transparency from it without a previous effort of organize and improve the management of its processes in order to generate reliable information?  The promotion of transparency should be postponed until the reform finishes?  One problem is that the country already knows of many attempts to reform the decentralized education systems unsuccessfully.

b. It is pertinent to increase transparency in this sector?

The first question led us to a next one, deeper and more complex:  what if instead of gain something making more transparent this sector leads to loss in some other dimensions?

In poverty zones the State tends to be as poor as the society in which it is placed.  This is more severe when talking about the Peruvian education sector[11].  It does not have enough economic resources to ensure the accomplishment of its different tasks.  It also does not have human resources in terms both of quantity (insufficient personnel) and qualifications (low qualified personnel). 

The scarcity of resources leads to a continuous fight to make the institutions work hiring personnel using informal channels cheating the regulations which could be easily understood as corruption or very close to it.  For example, almost in every school that we visited in zones of rural poverty we found out that the municipalities were helping to cover the salary of one or two teachers.  Since the amount of municipal budget available use to be very small and without certainty of how much could last, only people close to the local authority accept the duty, therefore contests do not take place.  The sector at provincial and regional levels is aware of that kind of situation, but since the educative authorities do not have the power to fix the problems formally and the population wants teachers teaching their kids, they chose to let it be, as we were told.

There is a grey zone where the distinction between the public and the private loses all of their meaning due to the poverty of the State and the needing to fight the poverty (of the society).  In such framework many acts that can be defined as corrupt at first end up being nothing more than answers against the structural problem of lack of resources.  Inefficiency and corruption are closely related there, so how can we separate them?  What reform needs to be supported first?

c. It is enough to make the sector transparent?

Let’s suppose that the sector produces enough information that can be exposed to the public.  Let’s suppose also that such information does not put the system to fight scarcity at risk of collapse.  One final question rises:  transparency could be enough to surpass distrust against the State on the side of the people?  Transparency could stimulate citizenship monitor of the public resources?  And finally, transparency could help to improve the delivery of education?

We have two very different hypothesis here.  On one hand there is the experience of the campaign Education Without Corruption which showed an increasing in people’s complaints in the DP decentralized offices, suggesting that when correctly triggered people’s trust in some institutions can be put into motion.  In this case probably the alliance between an independent NGO and a legitimated public institution could have done the work.

But on the other hand there is the information collected in the rural communities which brought evidence that poor rural people do not worry about corruption.  Certainly, living with so much limitations is already a problem enough to bear with it everyday.  Furthermore the feeling of the inevitable reality leads them to think that nothing will ever change, putting sever restrictions to the possibilities for complaints or monitor of public resources on the side of the people.

This last point is related to the problem of the weakness of civil society which gets worse the more rural is the scope.  In the cities there are civil society organizations.  Most of them are weak, but still they have some capacities to stand in the public spaces for citizen participation.  But away from the cities the civil organizations almost disappear except for the parents of students associations, which are usually reduced to a very small number of participating parents, which, in turn, end up being close to the principal of the respective school.  Then, the civil balance to monitor the power of the principals in the schools gets blurred or lost.

4. Epilogue – To be or not to be (fighting corruption)?

In fact, all of the above questions leads to a fourth one:  what can be done?  And particularly:  what can we do, as corruption fighters or promoters of transparency?  This is still an unfinished debate in our institution and is related with the topic of how to make corruption theoretically fit in the complexity of the sector, its weakness, its fragmentation, its poverty and its relations with the people.

Nevertheless, we have some certainties regarding two general topics:

i.            Information to the people:  this is a key element in order to build citizenship.  There are lots of things to do regarding this field since there are some bare notions of rights but without the component of exigency.  For example, the parents know that their kids are due to receive text books, but when these material do not arrive, they do not feel like they might complaint for it, since “always was the same” and they are not aware that it is a fault which deserves attention from the local or regional authorities.  Informed people would demand better services putting into motion some of the reforms needed.

ii.            Strengthen institutional capacities:  This is obviously needed.  We think that the most sustainable way to achieve it is to get the commitment of the authorities to do it.  An advocacy strategy at that level seems very important:  an institutional commitment to capacitate any person hired would be better than, for example, a training workshop with the current personnel, because they probably leave the position at any time along with the next turn of the tides in the direction of the public entities.  And this result to be another problem:  the very heads of the sector do not have certainty of their stability in the position due to the conflictive nature of the management of the education sector, due in turn to be the most important employer of the State in the regions (specially the poorer ones, since the private sector is less present) and is the most important source of capital to pay political support during the electoral campaigns.

iii.            The reform is way much more the sole topic of transparency, or even anticorruption.  This can be only a streamline of the holistic effort.  But the fight might be to get a modern sector (a modern State in fact), which could be both efficient and accountable.

[1]Perú is divided in 26 regions, which are divided in provinces and districts.  The political authority in the regional level is the President of the Region (a governor).  In provinces and districts there are mayors.

[2]In public procurement, hiring of personnel, monitor of economic resources, accomplishment of the law on transparency and access to public information, and judiciary, for instance.

[3]Lambayeque (northern coast), Cajamarca (northern Andes), Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Junín (central Andes).

[4]The research was about the delivery of basic social services delivery, and included health and nutritional support.  I will focus mostly in the education side of the experience, but when needed a reference to the other components will be shared.

[5]Six regions in the pilot phase until the end of 2006, and twelve in the expanded phase (april – november 2007 took place the reception of complaints).  The report of this second phase is still pending to be published.

[6]Through informational spots on local radios, workshops on corruption in education with key actors and informational visits to schools.

[7]More information about the campaign and its results can be found in the final report of the pilot stage:  Con Corrupción no hay Educación. Resultados de la campaña piloto Educación sin Corrupción. Documento Defensorial Nº001. Lima, 2007 ( and in the U4 Brief:  Corruption-free Education. Lessons from a State and civil society joint initiative in Peru(

[8]In the case of health we had to see the national level too, due to that the procurement of medicines is made firstly at that level.

[9]PRONAA, Programa Nacional de Apoyo Alimentario, is the national program to give alimentary support to the poor.  The programs that we studied are managed by PRONAA and executed in schools and health posts by public officers of these institutions.  That is why we did not excluded them.

[10]The UGEL (Unidad de Gestión Educativa Local or local unit of educative management) is the intermediate entity between the regional authority and the schools.  An UGEL is usually responsible of the schools of one province and it is placed in the capital city of the province.

[11]The proposed budget of the sector for 2009 stil does not reach the 3% of the GDP.  In other countries of the region the percentage is over 4%.  The public spenditure per student is below the regional average, very far away from countries like Argentina, Chileor Uruguay.

docChallenges for transparency in Peruvian education

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