Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Corruption in Italian Politics- NY Times: "Virtually no corner of Italy is immune to criminal penetration"

Italy has recently regained worldwide attention because of a very unflattering title: most corrupt country in the EU. Transparency International in its annual Corruption Index ranked Italy 69th out of 175 countries, last in the EU together with Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. The result was the same in 2013, and, believe it or not, it was actually an improvement from 2012, when Italy was ranked 72nd.
Shortly after the report was published, “Mafia Capitale” exploded. It emerged that a criminal organization operating in Rome, and a local one, not a transplanted “traditional” mafia, had deep-rooted links to local politics, police and business.
The New York Times described Italy as a “country where corruption is taken for granted as a part of daily life and that “no corner of Italy is immune from criminal penetration”, not without a reason.
That corruption is found everywhere in the country, and not only in the southern regions, is quite clear now. Two very prominent cases that were uncovered during the last months in northern Italy are Expo 2015 and the MOSE project. These are examples of what in academia is known as “grand corruption”, aka the payment of a bribe in order to obtain a major contract.

The 2015 Universal Exposition is supposed to take place next year in Milan. Starting in May 2014, a series of scandals saw members of all the main political parties arrested and investigated for irregularities in awarding public contracts. The extent of the problem is believed to be so large that Raffaele Cantone, the magistrate who is President of the new-born National Anti-corruption Authority, was nominated head of the Expo to monitor the situation. 

Raffaele Cantone, President of the National Anti-corruption Authority

Venice was also shaken by the MOSE investigation. The project of mobile gates to protect the city from flooding recently saw 35 people arrested, including mayor Giorgio Orsoni who eventually negotiated a plea bargain. According to allegations, Orsoni took money to illegally fund his electoral campaign from Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the firm who won the MOSE contract.
In these cases, politicians usually defend themselves saying that those who are caught are a couple of “rotten apples”. Journalist Marco Travaglio claimed that “the basket itself is rotten”, so every good apple goes bad too. In addition, this is also a cultural problem. Magistrate Cantone stresses this point, saying that in Italy there is a “cultural underestimation” of corruption: when a new scandal comes up, “we live moments of daily outrage which vanish shortly after”. He added that the parliament has “different sensibilities” about the topic -he put it in an extremely soft way, to say the least.
PM Matteo Renzi said that the government will introduce a bill that focuses on four main points to fight corruption: longer prison terms so that even if a culprit negotiates a plea bargain he still has to spend some time in jail; easier requisition of culprits’ properties; need for corrupt to pay back everything they stole; longer procedural time limits, so that the corrupt have less chances to get away with it. Cantone said that the latter is a very positive step, although more should be done, such as focusing more on promoting transparency and reuse confiscated properties in a productive way to send a positive message and start changing citizens’ attitudes.

For those who speak Italian, you can watch Cantone’s interview at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py5HWWHQ-kE, while Renzi’s message can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rFDC9T0Aps&feature=youtu.be

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