Italy needs strong anti-corruption laws now

With Italy once again awash with corruption scandals and parliament delaying the approval of new, tougher anti-corruption laws, Transparency International’s latest assessment of Italy’s ability to fight corruption and the strengths of its institutions, published on 30 March, was well timed. The scandals, according to Maria Teresa Brassaiolo, chair of Transparencia Italia, should not surprise anyone, which is one reason why the government should not delay in passing stronger anti-corruption laws.

Based on your analysis of Italy’s government and institutions – published on March 30th  –  what are reforms are most urgent in the fight against corruption in Italy?

First and foremost we need a sound new anti-corruption law that provides higher accountability and transparency in the selection of the political class. There needs to be higher accountability of the public sector and the public sector should follow the same rules as the private sector and civil society. Up to now many of those working for the public sector bodies, the ministries, the executive branch and the judiciary, including politicians, enjoy unacceptable privileges in both high salaries and their lack of accountability.  The financial crisis showed us this.

Will the government introduce a new anti-corruption law soon and will it be a comprehensive law?

It seems likely that there will be a delay in the introduction of a new law. We are lobbying hard so this does not happen. The amendments to the law, which are now under scrutiny in the Lower Chamber includes most of the provisions required. We hope it will be voted on by the majority and will be soon set into practice.

When you were invited to speak to the government what was their main concern and what was yours?

The main concern of the Minister and his advisors was to explain the amended bill. TI Italia had already written to the Minister suggesting 17 points to be considered in the bill, which have all been included. These include measures to give higher attention to the prevention of corruption, including making anti-corruption/integrity part of the high school curriculum. We also stressed the need for Italy to comply with audit reports from authorities such as the OECD and GRECO (The European Union’s Group of States against Corruption), which have criticised Italy’s anti-corruption activities, and the need for better whistle blower protection. There is also now a provision for all public administrative bodies to present a 3-years anti-corruption plan for 2013-2015.

What is the role of civil society in the fight against corruption in Italy?

Civil society has a key role in educating people about the need to take anti-corruption seriously, even if this is not a great selling point in the media. Civil society has to be courageous, balanced and competent and it needs to push education, education and more education to bring about long-term change.

In all school levels the old religious teachings have not been replaced by sound education on civic responsibility, so several generations have no balance to the dominant message that getting rich is all that matters. Unfortunately, and disgracefully, politics and the public sector are seen as the shortest way to get this goal.

There are still great differences across the regions of Italy and civil society will have more to do in some places than others and also devote their efforts for different goals. In the north volunteers are more devoted to projects to alleviate social problems and to help developing countries, whereas in the south there is more engagement in the fight against the murky world of organised crime.  But volunteering is likely to spread all over the country and we are already seeing many positive signs in difficult regions. Perhaps in this contest the financial crisis may become an opportunity.

What has brought about the latest party funding scandal that has seen the Northern League founder and his son resign?

The problem starts with lax and chaotic governance. Frankly I am not surprised at the corruption found in funding of political parties in Italy. Our report showed that political parties were considered the weakest of all institutions when it came to integrity. The Northern League is not alone in this. When you read the papers, many parties are seen to have either lost funds or have no accounting for how they are spent. That is one reason why we believe it is very important that the government adopt the amended anti-corruption legislation they are currently debating. We will try to push this issue hard in the next few months and on May 25th we plan to launch a public campaign focussing on anti-corruption in public life.

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