When Transparency International announces the results of the Corruption Perceptions Index in December and Italy performs badly again, there will always be at least one commentator who feigns surprise. How could it happen? Italy has the same score as Bulgaria and Senegal again? The index must be wrong.
The writer unquestionably accepts the scores for Bulgaria and Senegal as accurate, but rejects the one for Italy because it makes us look bad.
The majority of the Italian media and public authorities’ messages about the Corruption Perceptions Index are more cynical: our patient is quite sick, but the one next to him looks sicker, so we do not need to worry.
Both attitudes are wrong. What we really need to do is face up to the fact that Italy has not managed to tackle corruption.
Everyday there is more news of corruption: houses that collapse because of lack of building code enforcement, unnecessary surgeries done simply to get reimbursements; elections won because votes were bought.
There was the story of a high-level public official, a seven-term member of the parliament, handing out favours to friends, relatives and friends of relatives, regarding public procurement. We have read how a popular football team was used to launder money and then had to declare bankruptcy in front of its fans and the town.
It’s no wonder citizens are starting to become pessimistic. They are losing both interest in civic life and trust in the public authorities.
This doesn’t have to be the case. I would like to offer some concrete solutions that can be implemented in the medium and short term to help Italy in the fight against corruption, and help it become a more transparent, trustworthy country:
The National Anti-Corruption Authority (Autorita Nazionale Anticorruzione):
The commitment and the performance of the head of this unit, his advisors and colleagues are excellent. But they need more power and resources to do their job properly. They also need to be able to access information from different bodies, including the national audit office, the financial crimes authorities, the courts and the police.
Whistleblower protection is limited and fragmented in Italy. The new clause covering whistleblower protection in the anti-corruption law is vague and limited to the public sector. Nobody is likely to come forward as a whistleblower because this law only offers weak protection. Italy should look to introduce legislation similar to that in the US and UK, which better protects and ensures the anonymity of whistleblowers.
Convictions and punishments:
Long trials and short statutes of limitations are undermining the fight against corruption. Italy and Greece are the only European Union members where the statute of limitations starts the day of the offence and ends on the last day in the court of appeal. Those prosecuted for corruption and their lawyers can draw out proceedings to avoid convictions. The statute of limitations for the offences related to corruption must be increased and the appeal process shortened. This is beginning to happen, but more needs to be done.
Corruption affects everybody, so everybody needs to fight it. That’s why it is important to have strong access to information laws so that citizens, journalists and civil society organisations can find out what their leaders are doing. It was only a few days ago that the Treasury refused to give information about bank statements signed by former governments.
Italy needs a law similar to the US Freedom of Information Act where citizens have the right to access any information of the public administration.
Transparency also means having an open and compulsory register for all lobbyists for both the public and private sectors. Italy is still the only country in Europe where such a register does not exist, although there are discussions to introduce regulations for the private sector.
Political campaign financing:
In a couple of years we could end up with a system where only the private sector is able to fund electoral campaigns and no regulations in place to manage relationships between the private sector, lobbying organisations, political parties and politicians. Italy needs a lobbying law together with a new law on political party financing.
We cannot pretend that corruption is not damaging the economy, the democratic process and our lives simply because other countries are worse off than we are. If we are serious about stopping corruption, we must act now. Implementing the solutions above is a necessary first step.
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