Rome

Napolitano signs anti-sleaze decree after spending scandals

Measure cuts regional councillors by 35%

Napolitano signs anti-sleaze decree after spending scandals

(ANSA) - Rome, October 10 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday signed a decree that would cut the number of regional councillors by 35% in response to a raft of public-spending scandals. In a statement, the president said his signature came in response to a need for "urgent measures in finance and managing local authorities". Upon introducing the decree last week, President Mario 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. According to the decree, local bodies who do not stay in line with budgets will face central-government funding cuts of 80%. 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. The government planned to change Article V of the Constitution to recalibrate the way the State and regions spend money to avoid waste, Monti says. 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 millions of euros of public money for personal use. The case of Fiorito, who was arrested last week, caused the PdL's Renata Polverini to step down as governor. 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.

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