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  • Peru drops promise to set up a science ministry


[LIMA] The Peruvian government has decided not to create a dedicated ministry of science, rejecting the advice of an ad hoc committee of prominent scientists, appointed by the president, which had proposed the idea as a part of a roadmap for revolutionising science in the country.

Instead, the government will move the agency responsible for promoting science, the National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation (CONCYTEC), from the education ministry into the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, a body of public entities and regulatory organisations.

The move has surprised many scientists who fear it will dilute science's influence in the government, instead of increasing it as was envisaged with the idea of a science ministry.

During his election campaign last year, President Humala promised to promote the development of science, technology and innovation (STI) and raise the science budget from its current 0.1 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), one of the lowest rates in the region, to at least 0.7 per cent of GDP by the end of his mandate. He also pledged to create Peru's first ministry dedicated to science.

But divisions within the academic community over the need for a dedicated science ministry led Humala to appoint, in November 2011, an ad hoc committee of scientific experts to review the needs of science.

This body produced a plan for the development and implementation of a national science policy, with specific proposals for boosting Peru's science and innovation capacity.

One of the committee's key recommendations was the creation of either a science ministry or a ministerial committee, to be chaired by the prime minister.

But the government has now spurned either option, without any explanation, and it remains unclear whether the rest of the action plan will be adopted.

Peru's education minister, Patricia Salas, who announced the government's decision last month (16 June), said that this was "a consensus decision taken at the Council of Ministers, after assessing proposals from the ad hoc committee".

Several scientists told SciDev.Net that the decision indicated that the government had the political will to improve science, but lacked the knowledge to do so.

Francisco Sagasti, a former chair of the Science and Technology Program (FINCyT) board at the office of the Peruvian prime minister and a member of the ad-hoc committee, said the government could adopt the action plan and immediately start to improve the "disastrous" situation regarding STI in Peru.

But he said the government had so far failed to do so due to a "combination of indifference, ignorance and incompetence" in STI issues, and that these factors "permeated the country's public sector and government".

Peru's scientists are more concerned about the lack of either funding or a coherent policy to develop the science sector, than they are about the precise political makeup of a potential science ministry.

"Without a budget, and with no policies or researchers, it doesn't make sense [to create a ministry]," Rolando Paucar, a nuclear physicist and former director of the Peruvian Institute of Nuclear Energy, told SciDev.Net.

But he added that CONCYTEC, whose annual budget has remained unchanged over the past 20 years at around 16 million nuevos soles (US$6 million), needed "re-engineering, a new vision, a strategic plan and a bigger budget to carry out its work".

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