Govt announces 'binding plan' to avert Sicilian default

Region must do its own spending review, says Monti

Govt announces 'binding plan' to avert Sicilian default

(ANSA) - Rome, July 24 - The central government said on Tuesday that a meeting between Premier Mario Monti and Sicilian governor Raffaele Lombardo had produced a "binding" plan to reorganise the regional government's organization and finances. The announcement came after Monti wrote to Lombardo earlier this month asking him to confirm his decision to quit as governor to help end Sicily's political gridlock, stressed that the region risked defaulting on its debts. Lombardo, who is facing charges of colluding with the mafia, said he would step down by July 31 earlier on Tuesday. Monti told Lombardo that Sicily must undertake a major spending review like the one the central government did to create its plan to save 26 billion euros over the next three years. A government statement on a meeting between the two men said Monti had welcomed the regional government's recent commitment to reduce the number of regional staff, managers and companies, and the initial results achieved as part of its plan to end the regional health deficit. "Nevertheless, the premier stressed the need, at the same time, to start a process of tough discussions at the technical level to analyse all the components of the regional budget to guarantee a framework of maximum openness and transparency of the data," said the statement. "On this basis, a programme of structural reforms and reorganisation of the regional public administration will be prepared that will be binding in its objectives and timeframes and constantly monitored by the technical bodies of the national government". According to the Italian Audit Court, the region had debts of 21 billion euros in 2011, although Lombardo disputes these figures. The Italian media have run a series of stories reporting alleged waste in the running of the region. Articles have pointed out, for example, that the Sicilian regional government employs around 20,000 people, while Lombardy, the region around Milan's financial capital Milan, employs a quarter of that number. These calculations do not include Sicily's 26,000 forest guards. Lombardy has around 460 forest guards. Lombardo, however, has said the region's finances are fundamentally sound and argues that the default alarm has been drummed up by the media. Prosecutors in April presented a request to try Lombardo and his brother Angelo, an MP for Lombardo's Movimento per l'Autonomia (MpA) party, for allegedly swapping votes for favors with Vincenzo Aiello, a prominent member of the powerful Catania-based Santapaola clan. Lombardo has denied the accusations.

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