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Making Italy’s Sly Politicians Transparent

Italians do not really like, nor trust, many of their politicians.  More than 50% of the population of Italy will have a very hard job deciding to vote for when elections happen at some time in early 2013.  Shenanigans over the auditing of party funds this week are unlikely to have change the way Italians view their politicians.

Despite being fully aware of how unpopular they are, Italy’s rag tag groups of politicians do not even bother attempting to make themselves more likable.  The concept of transparency, for example, is completely alien to them.  As usual, Italy’s political classes set a poor example for the rest of Italy’s citizens.

Yesterday, Italy’s politicians decided not to make independent auditing of political party accounts a legal requirement.  Their refusal caused uproar and hit Italy’s headlines, at the same time probably confirming suspicions that Italy’s political leaders have plenty to hide.  Many Italians suspect that money collected from taxpayers is squandered on heaven only knows what.

The U-Turn

After much moaning and groaning from many quarters, today, Italy’s political class agreed to allow independent auditors to review their party accounts.  Whether or not these auditors will be genuinely independent remains to be seen, and some Italians will be suspicious.  Independent on paper these auditors might be, but knowing how Italy functions, sooner or later it will be revealed that the head of the independent auditor’s team was actually a close friend of some party bigwig or other.

Though Italy’s political parties receive extremely generous amounts of funding from Italy’s population, there has been no legal requirement for them to say just what exactly is done with the money.  Controls up to now, have been internal.  Indeed, nobody really knows what the vast sums of cash are spent on.  Sometimes, however, Italians do discover how their taxes are being, er, spent.

Public Funds Become Private Investments

In one instance, left-over party funds from a defunct party were used by an honourable gentleman to bolster his personal investment portfolio.

Said politician, Senator Luigi Lusi managed to squirrel away at least 20 million Euros before he was caught.  It is suspected that the actual sum may be as much as 30 million Euros. Lusi used part of his ill-gotten gains to construct a platial mansion in Toronto, of all places.  No wonder he was kept in the clink because the authorities were worried he would attempt to escape from Italy.

How did the ex-honorable gentleman manage to steal so much money before anybody realised?  That is a very good question, but it is due, at least in part, to the political party concerned not keeping an eye on what was being done with its funds.  Nobody noticed that 20 million Euro hole until after the good Senator Lusi had all but completed his spending spree.

Recently, Lusi was freed from prison to pass time under house arrest in a monastery while he waits for his case to come before Italy’s courts.  Lusi has agreed to return around 5 million Euros, so far.

Public Funds buy Luxury Boats, Maybe

In another case, a member of Berlusconi’s PdL party stands accused of embezzlement.  Franco Fiorito, a politician forming part of the region government of Lazio, is believed to have been using public money to fund his extravagant lifestyle, including a 15 meter motor launch.  It seems that public money was used by the politician to buy a BMW X5 and a Smart.  Fiorito also had the use of two official cars.

Certain sums linked to Fiorito have ended up in bank accounts in Spain, and investigators are attempting to ascertain just where he obtained all his cash.  The man himself says the money is all his and that he inherited a house from a relative, but those delving into Fiorito’s affairs are not convinced.

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Once again, as in the Lusi case, nobody has been keeping an eye on just how taxpayers’ money is being spent.  This situations are likely to be the tip of an iceberg.

Time for Change

To cut down on Italy’s political parties dipping into the public purse to fund their personal lives, somebody thought that it was about time party accounts were examined by external auditors.  Only some of the political parties were somewhat reluctant for this to happen.

No doubt they were terrified voters would find out just how much money has been squandered.  Such discoveries would ruin the chances of those seeking election.

A Few Exceptions to the Rule

A couple of Italy’s larger polticial parties had, to their credit, said that they would have their accounts audited independently, legal requirement or not.

The left leaning Democratic Party – PD – says its accounts have been examined for many years by the same auditors who keep an eye on the Bank of Italy.  Members of the party feel that their consciences are clear, or that the auditors are friendly.  Probably somewhere between the two.

All well and good, but knowing the reputation Italy’s politicians have for being thieves, independent auditing should have been implemented by means of statue decades ago.

Still, better late than never on the auditing front.  Now Italy needs laws and harsh punishments to dissuade politicians, and others, from bribery, corruption and embezzlement.

Will this happen?  Who knows.  This is Italy.

By the way, the cost of politics in Italy is horrendously high.


Fox image by Rob Lee from Evergreen, CO, USA

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