The Origins of Crisis: Corruption and Nepotism Haunt Southern Europe
Jobs for your friends, contracts for your relatives, cash handouts for everyone: that’s how politics works in Sicily. Now the island is on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s an example of the underlying problem plaguing many parts of the southern European countries now struggling to contain the euro crisis.
Marcello Bartolotta, a surgeon from the Sicilian town of Messina, has hit the jackpot. He has just been granted a seat in the regional parliament as a replacement for a parliamentarian from his party who recently died. The assembly will be dissolved in October ahead of regional elections. That, though, is hardly a problem for Bartoletta. After all, for the three or four remaining sessions he will attend until then, he will get some €40,000 ($49,000), in addition to expenses.
That, though, is if Sicily doesn’t go bankrupt first. And there is a chance it may.
Bartolotta’s 89 fellow lawmakers and their 400 assistants have already been told that their July salaries won’t be paid out punctually. The “Onorevoli,” the “Honorables,” as Italian parliamentarians call themselves, are up in arms at the announcement and the Palazzo Reale, where the assembly has its seat, echoed with shouts of “We want our money!” Yet the parliamentarians themselves have contributed significantly to Sicily’s financial misery.
The problem isn’t just that they receive a monthly net salary of €10,000 to €15,000 — more than members of the national assembly in Rome get — without working terribly hard. The assembly rarely convenes and the turnout is usually quite low. Even the fact that almost a third of the Honorables have a criminal record, are being sued or are under investigation is a cosmetic blemish at most. The true problem lies in what they have been doing: The political class in semi-autonomous Sicily has been doling out jobs and cash so lavishly over the years that the region is at risk of financial collapse.