Monti bids to cut sleaze after spending scandals

Number and cost of local officials to be reduced

Monti bids to cut sleaze after spending scandals

(ANSA) - Rome, October 5 - Premier Mario Monti on Wednesday night vowed to cut the cost and number of local officials across Italy in response to a wave of public-spending scandals he said had left the Italian public "stunned and indignant". Unveiling a decree that would cut the number of regional councillors by 35%, Monti cited widespread "dismay at incidents that undermine the faith and reputation of the country and its credibility abroad". Recent sleaze cases, culminating in a scandal that forced the governor of Lazio to step down, risked defeating "the efforts we are all making to ensure Italy's role is fully recognised at the international level," Monti said. The exposure of graft and pork-barrel politics on such a scale wreaked "incalculable damage" on Italy's image. Local bodies who do not stay in line with budgets will face central-government funding cuts of 80%, Monti said. Mayors who do not keep their accounts in order will not be allowed to stand again, the premier said. The pay of local and regional councillors will be cut to the level of the best-behaved region, while stipends will be eliminated and all local officials will have to make public, and have certified by the Audit Court, the money they get. The pension age of local officials will be raised from 50 to 66, Monti said. The government planned to change Article V of the Constitution to recalibrate the way the State and Regions spend money to avoid waste, he added. The tipping point in public indignation with political corruption came last month when Franco Fiorito, caucus leader for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party in the Lazio region, was alleged to have skimmed off thousands of euros of public money for personal use. The case of Fiorito, who was arrested earlier this week, caused the PdL's Renata Polverini to step down as governor of Lazio last week. The investigation is only one of a series of recent corruption scandals that have hit various parts of Italy's political spectrum, sparking condemnation from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the Catholic Church. Experts say the scandals have also strengthened widespread public disaffection with the nation's political class and contributed to the rise of comedian Beppe Grillo's grassroots Five Star movement, which is opposed to the present party system. The Five Star movement is vying with the PdL for second place in the polls, behind the runaway leader, the centre-left Democratic Party, according to several surveys. Monti insisted Wednesday night that his technocratic government, which will leave office in May, will do its utmost to make sure political parties forge an effective anti-corruption law, currently bogged down amid partisan sparring in parliament. "Scandals are part of an old Italy," he said. "The fight against corruption should be part of the DNA of all parties and I hope an accord is swiftly reached because it is essential for the country"".

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