Mafia Capitale and the governance of Rome

The Mafia Capitale trial in Rome has begun over the city's home grown mafia. One of the accused is a comic book baddie with one eye lost in a shoot out, another was recorded by police saying that the contract for looking after immigrants was more profitable than running cocaine

Mafia Capitale: The trial begins
Tim Hedges
On 8 November 2015 07:59

The trial of around fifty people involved in the scandal known as Mafia Capitale has begun. The charges include the systematic rigging of local government contracts by what is believed to be the capital's own home grown mafia.

No one is in much doubt about the outcome: one of the accused is a comic book baddie with one eye lost in a shoot out, another was recorded by police saying that the contract for looking after immigrants was more profitable than running cocaine.

The overwhelming feeling amongst Romans, though, is surprise; shock tinged with a little shame. Rome has a special place in people's opinion of Italy. Its town hall, the Campidoglio with its massive statue of Marcus Aurelius astride a horse, is different to others; its mayor known as the 'first citizen'. Such things should not happen here.

And now this: grubby contract rigging, bribes and embezzlement right at the heart of the city's governance.

To cap it all, Romans have been forced to follow the astonishing tale of the city's mayor. Ignazio Marino was elected in June 2013 to replace Gianni Alemanno, a square jawed, self confident former fascist who, I should fairly say, at least put a stop to the illegal parking outside our flat. It was under Alemanno that the Mafia Capitale operation seems to have taken root.

Marino was quite the opposite: a kind, slightly nervous former liver surgeon, he conformed, it seemed, more to the Pope Francis model, going round the city on a bicycle. Perhaps a mayor for our times?

But it was not to be. Rome had and has a number of structural and organisational problems stemming from many years back, and it rapidly became apparent that Marino was not the man to solve them. Not, of course that any of his predecessors ran anything like a tight ship. But confidence in him was waning. Marino seemed to be just too nice.

I think no one would have guessed his downfall, however. He went to New York, for some reason at the same time as the Pope, and it was reported afterwards that he had used his City of Rome credit card to pay for private meals. A New York retaurateur confirmed to the eager reporters that on a particular date he was dining with his family, not on business.

It seems likely that Marino was fitted up, but he was helpless in the face of the evidence. His first reaction was to repay from his own pocket all the expenses he had claimed as mayor, some €25,000. When this did not satisfy the rather hypocritical complaints of his colleagues he resigned.

By this time, Prime Minister Renzi, head of the Democratic Party to which Marino belonged, had withdrawn his support and refused to meet the mayor. Many found this a a surprising lack of party solidarity but Renzi has a ruthless streak. He merely said the capital was not being well run and that Marino should go.

However there was a small but significant groundswell of sympathetic support for Marino. Mistakenly, he took this to heart and withdrew his resignation as he was permitted to do within three weeks of submitting it (don't ask - this is Italy). He said he would fight on.

Pity the poor people of Rome who during this period had the lamest of lame duck governments, unable to pass the simplest of legislation to keep the city going. In the end, 26 councillors, more than half the total, resigned. The rug was pulled from under Ignazio Marino and he will become a footnote to history.

The Government has now imposed a commissioner to run the city until elections can be held next year. He is Francesco Tronca, whose previous job was successfully managing the Milan Expo, the international exhibition which has just finished. His task? First, to sort out the transport system which is haemorraging cash through corruption, poor management and outdated union demands.

Second he must improve the rubbish collection system which is understaffed and seriously short of landfill sites. Third he must deal with the problem of illegal immigrants many of whom are involved in petty crime and sleeping in illegal camps around the city. Lastly there is the Jubilee, which starts this month. At least 25 million extra tourists are expected, some say more.

Oh, and the city is insolvent. So that should keep him busy.

And the Romans? As well as finding out their own man was a dud, they now have the indignity of being sorted out by a Milanese. They will shrug it off; they always do.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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