New Delhi: A few months ago, not many knew who Maria Antonieta Alva was. Popularly called Toni, Alva is the 35-year-old finance minister of Peru who has been winning praises for coming up with a fiscal package to support small businesses and vulnerable families in the nation during the Covid-19 crisis.
Alva’s efforts has made her a household name, with mother’s lining up to take selfies, posters featuring her and the words ‘courage and dignity’ being hung from bridges and thousands of fans on social media.
Alva was appointed finance minister of Peru in October 2019, as part of a cabinet reshuffle that saw a change in more than half of the country’s 19-member cabinet.
Today, she is part of a group of millennial finance ministers in the region, alongside Argentina’s Martin Guzman who is 37 years old, Dominican Republic’s 35-year-old Juan Ariel Jimenez, and 39-year-old Richard Martinez in Ecuador.
Alva first joined Peru’s finance ministry in 2010 after completing her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Universidad del Pacifico in 2008. She later went on to obtain a scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Administration in International Development from the Harvard University in 2014.
Alva spent two months in India studying educational opportunities for girls before returning to Peru and joining the country’s education ministry. She went on to become the head of its planning and budget department.
She returned to the finance ministry later as its budget chief, where she lead a team of more than 150 people.
“She’s prudent, hardworking and well-liked at the finance ministry,” former finance ministry official Pablo Secada had said of Alva last year.
She has come to be seen as the approachable face, steering an ambitious recovery package during the Covid-19 crisis.
Since her appointment to the cabinet last year, Alva has become one of the central figures among a new generation of young leaders in the Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra’s team. She is widely appreciated for explaining public policy to a wide audience.
“She’s very good at communicating and that’s become much more important in the current context,” said Carlos Oliva, Alva’s predecessor.
Exposed to poverty early on in life
Alva was exposed to extreme poverty from a young age when she accompanied her father, civil engineer Jorge Alva, on visits to the hinterlands of Peru. But her focus now is to change things.
As part of the finance ministry, Alva initially tried to reverse the slump in government infrastructure outlays by helping regional and local authorities spend faster, which led to a record increase in public investment.
She also pushed to reduce deficits in health, education and infrastructure, and revive Peru’s growth after it suffered a decade-low of 2.2 per cent last year. But after the pandemic broke out, the country has been hit hard despite the fact that it had imposed a stringent lockdown early on.
Alva’s focus now is on containment and she has worked on providing aid for families and businesses. She also plans to reactivate businesses once the lockdown restrictions are eased this month.
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