As Rome implements deep austerity measures in a bid to save its economy from a fate similar to Greece, many Italians are voicing anger over the privileged lifestyles of their elected representatives.
Italy’s elected officials are the highest paid politicians in the world and are also among the biggest cheaters, according to an anonymous Italian blogger who calls himself “Spider Truman.”
The blogger says he was laid off from his job in the Italian parliament after working there for 15 years. He is now using the social media site Facebook to leak details of the privileges the Italian political class enjoys.
Italian politicians receive free national airline tickets for themselves and friends, lend out state-paid chauffeured cars to political supporters, receive discount rates on phone bills and vehicles, and make false reports of death threats to qualify for bodyguards. They are also paid 12,000 euros ($17,000) a month after tax, which is over twice the European average.
Sergio Rizzo is the author of the best-selling expose on Italian politicians called La Casta, or The Caste. Like Spider Truman’s Facebook page, La Casta chronicles the waste and excesses of the political class in Italy. It is a group that has ballooned in size and privilege, he says.
“The Italian politicians are the most expensive in Europe and I think all over the world,” Rizzo told Deutsche Welle.
“The problem is not only the number of the members of parliament,” he said. “The problem is the average cost of the persons who work in the parliament. In the Italian Senate, we have about 1,000 people who cost about 130,000 euros a year each.”
That figure is per person and after taxes, which is about five times higher than the average cost of a public worker, according to Rizzo.
It is this discrepancy that has made Spider Truman’s blog a hit, with almost 400,000 followers. But public outrage has also been fuelled by politicians’ tone deafness.
During a recent meeting, Innovation Minister Renato Brunetta refused to take a question from a representative of a contract workers rights group. Brunetta told the representative that she represented the worst of Italy.
The president of the northern Italian region of Lombardia provoked further anger when he gave a television interview about the need to cut costs while he was wearing leisure clothes and standing among multi-million dollar yachts.
Sergio Rizzo says Italy’s ongoing recession has made Italians less tolerant toward the politicians’ excess.
“It’s like a big wave is mounting against the waste, against the arrogance of politicians,” Rizzo said. “In a sense it is like ’92 and ’93, when the Clean Hands exploded in Italy.”
Under Operation Clean Hands, many leading politicians, civil servants, and prominent businessmen were arrested and imprisoned in a corruption clean-up. But the scandal came and went without any major reform. Observers say that, given Italy’s huge economic problems, this time reform may be the only way forward.
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