(By Sandra Cordon) Paris, November 14 - Senior government managers in recession-weary Italy were the highest paid among the 34 member States within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the agency reported Thursday. Average salaries for senior Italian public-sector managers were the equivalent of $650,000 - almost three times the OECD average of $232,000, the Paris-based agency said in a major report on citizen satisfaction with their governments. Other findings touched on public trust in government officials, welfare and education spending, and the use of government services via the Internet. Based on 2011 data, the survey found that Italian public-sector salaries were far ahead of the second-highest paid in New Zealand, where top public administrators' salaries averaged $397,000. In the United Kingdom, the average was $348,000 annually followed by the United States, where the average salary was $275,000. Back in the eurozone, a senior public official in France - at the same level as that measured in Italy - earned an average of $260,000 annually, while in Germany the average was $231,000. The OECD report comes at a time when Italy is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in 20 years with rising unemployment, falling living standards and increasing levels of poverty. In response to the report, the Italian government said Thursday that a ceiling was put in place last year to cap the gross salaries of public executives at 302,937 euros per year, roughly the equivalent of about $408,000 US. Meanwhile, the OECD also found that only 28% of Italian citizens surveyed in 2012 had confidence in their government, slightly lower than findings from a previous study in 2007 and well below the average confidence level of 40% across the other 34 OECD member States. That stands in dramatic contrast to the highest level of confidence which was reported among citizens of Switzerland, where 77% expressed confidence in their government, and Luxembourg at 74%. The very lowest levels were reported in Greece, with just 13% of citizens surveyed expressing confidence in their government at a time that country was roiled with fiscal and economic woes. Japan and the Czech Republic also showed lower levels of confidence at 17% than Italians had expressed. The OECD report found that Italians also had little confidence in their judicial system, with 38% compared with an OECD average of 51%; but slightly higher levels of confidence in police agencies, at 76% among Italians compared with the 72% on average. Italians should enjoy good social services as the report showed that public spending on welfare in 2011 reached almost 50% of national gross domestic product (GDP) compared with a 45.4% average across the OECD's 34 member States. However, spending on education in Italy was below average, at 8.5% of GDP compared with an average of 12.5%. Italy also had one of the worst records for using the Internet to deal with public administration, lagging almost every other country. According to the report, only 19% of Italian citizens used the Internet to interact with local and national government, against an OECD average of 50%. Only Chile, with 7% access, had a worse record while all the major European countries were above 40% use, from the UK at 43% to Spain at 45%, Germany at 51% and France at 61%. Switzerland led the pack with 88% of citizens connecting online with their governments.
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