Decrypting yet another #Italian “Mani pulite” and #reforms


Often, I add within my week-end posts a reference to older posts either here on or on (eventually, I will have everything that I posted anywhere copied also on the latter).

Quite often, it is to share a reference to a forecast that turned into reality, using that as a stepping stone to share few ideas on moving ahead.

Today, I would like to start with something different: a short forecast wrote in July 2010 as if it were a “press release” published on September 8th 2015 (yes, next year)

The idea was to “celebrate” how Italy, over the previous five years, had managed to overcome its neverending list of intertwined conflicts or interests, nepotism, corruption, and outright “mafias”- and turn into a “transparent society”, both an aim and mean to achieve that aim.

Well, most of my foreign friends probably read a little bit about the recent corruption scandal in Rome- the “bubble” within the cartoon from Vauro is echoing a fascist song called “faccetta nera”, that was used to celebrate the supposed “Italian fascist empire” in Africa- converting the “faccetta” (small visage) into “mazzetta” (literally: a pile of cash used to pay a bribe).

I shared the cartoon that I had received from an Italian Facebook friend who lives in Northern Europe, but I added that, in order to comply with the current spirit of XXI century mercantilism that is pervading Italian politics (it all started in the 1980s, well ahead of 2000, or Y2K), also the counterpart, the former communist party, had changed its motto from “falce e martello” (hammer and sickle) to “falce e mazzetta”.

The reason? Few months ago, a person operating on behalf of the Italian Communist Party, indicted in the 1990s (basically, bribes- collecting or distributing doesn’t matter) during the “Mani Pulite” massive bribe investigation in Milan, was caught again doing more of the same.

Now, the issue isn’t that he was caught again- but that he was again covering a role (on behalf of who?) where the same activities were possible.

On a daily basis, we can read on Italian newspapers about a new wave of arrests, covering both sides of the political spectrum and, as of yesterday, confirmed to have stretched over few decades and few administrations in Rome- bipartisanship Italian style.

If it has been going so long, why now?

Well, because some threads unraveled (yes, today I am using US spelling), and, thinking about the larger stage, because there are few forthcoming changes within the Italian “institutional checks&balances”.

I will just share a short “grocery list” of potential, expected, and approved institutional reforms:
– turning the Senate into a forum more representative of local (regional, town, etc.) interests and less of a duplicate of the Lower Chamber, the Camera dei Deputati
– creating new administrative units called “città metropolitane” that, in some key regions, basically will have control on the most significant part of the region that they nominally belong to
– merging (yet to be confirmed how and when) counties (“province”) and smaller cities
– a yet-to-be-defined electoral law, that could turn out to be… whatever you want (it changes shape whenever somebody comments about it- the variable geometry law, a new Italian invention).

If you followed my posts over the last few years, you know that I have been always skeptical about the role of rating agencies, but I consistently said that criticism from Western Governments materialized only after they started moving down from their AAA, while until then they were lecturing Latin American, African, Asian countries about the virtues of rating…

So, I think that the system is imperfect- and, more than the rating itself, I like to have a look at the rationale- in this case, I found online the document issued by S&P (in English)

In 2010, I wasn’t optimist, I was just expressing hope- but, five years later, I still see the old “party apparatchik” attitude: what matters, is the chair, as, once appointed or elected, it starts feeling as if you were the best choice, and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that there is any higher priority than ensuring the availability of your services to the public.

It is still acceptable, under that mindset, to “sacrifice”, and move onto something bigger: since 2010, I saw that Italy has an endless list of politician (and non-politicians) basically positioning themselves as the natural choice to be the next President of the Republic.

The reforms? Frankly, I keep seeing an “avoidance path” to avoid reforms that could become political hazards (e.g. cutting down the State bureaucracy, increasing its productivity, and streamlining instead of multiplying decision centers)- “Hic Sunt Leones”, as the old maps told about unexplored lands.

Moreover, I am still of the idea that making more laws faster isn’t the real issue with the Italian Parliament: we have already too many laws, and keep adding more without really removing the existing ones, having citizens (private and corporate) on the receiving end of an endless list of bribe-opportunities (a.k.a. authorizations, documents to file, etc.)

The real issue, and S&P is neither the first nor the last to say it, is to put reforms on the books, but then enforcing them (in Italy, most laws require then some further acts from the maze of assorted State and local bureaucracies- as shown by recent governments, it is not unusual for our short-lived governments to leave behind hundreds of yet-to-enforced laws and regulations).

I think that sometimes foreigners’ ignorance is a bliss- just reading this week’s “L’Espresso” is disheartening: it is a list of “monsters” (true or imagined), while confirming that, in Italy, when you hire one within a public organization, you are actually hiring the family.

Personally, I chose long ago (1986, to be precise) to work in the private sector- and when I was asked in Brussels (in a pub in Schuman) if I would be willing to work within the European Institutions, I replied with something on the line of “if it is less corrupt than the Italian State bureaucracy” (actually, I think that those were my words).

Well, since then I had unexpectedly plenty of time to study definitions of corruption in public affairs, both past and present, and dig a little bit more into data (previously, I could just work on trends, as required by my business activities, as I had to “delegate” to newspapers, reports, etc. the details).

I think that the current outcry about corruption in Italy is both real and a tool to an end.

Whenever there has been a significant “organizational change” within the Italian State, including by re-distributing power, there has been the obvious struggle between those holding power in the previous organizational configuration, and those striving to have, at last, access to power.

Incidentally: look at the curriculum of most of the “new leaders” from Italy- they are more of the latter sort, than real newcomers, as often they have been holding small or not-so-small political roles for decades (in Italy, you traditionally enter politics more of less when you are leaving high school, while I did exactly the opposite- by choice).

I quoted already few times in the past a statement from Giuliano Amato, a long-standing Italian politician, former Prime Minister (formally: President of the Council of Ministers), and known also abroad.

It was during a “meeting” of those who weren’t “founding fathers” of the Partito Democratico (at the same meeting I saw also Marco Pannella and Antonio Di Pietro), and a young man in his early 30s talked on the same line of more recent politicians, i.e. asking to let a younger generation have access to power.

President Amato (in Italy usually we keep the highest office held as honorary title, sometimes with hilarious effects- if it works for President Berlusconi, why shouldn’t be for others?) said something on the line of “fine- provided that they are not somebody who lived just within political parties”.

While living abroad, I was sometimes asked about the curious penchant of Italian newspapers of publishing transcriptions of interceptions from ongoing investigations- including those involving people who aren’t under investigation, provided that their names “sell”.

It is worth repeating that this is in part something due to the old habit of our public employees to be often “representatives” of this or that political or power group (the spoils system in Italy extends not just to temporary, but also to permanent roles within State and local bureaucracies- up and down), where a “leak” to your party is almost considered natural- not a crime (yes, it is still formally a crime- but when shared from generals down to the lowest rank, it is not perceived as such).

And in part from another habit: our politicians were used to give interviews to newspaper journalists, and… denied that they had said what they had said the day after.

It was really funny when this habit was kept alive with the first political talk shows- but it was all before YouTube 🙂

Anyway, everybody records every conversation that might be of any interest anywhere- and more than once in Italy I have been told what I had said verbatim- but by people who weren’t there!

Not an issue, as I am boringly consistent (an annoying habit, in Italy, where in some occupations most of your time is spent re-inventing a path from your past to your present), as I showed when I started posting details on my CV after being repeatedly either told that it was fake, or asked to “improve it” to pad on skills that I never had.

No qualms about learning (I did it all my life and will keep doing it- in business and outside business), as shown by the variety of activities, industries, technologies I worked on (also if I have no university degree- I just studied at universities in my spare time since mid-1990s, now online), but “faking it until you learn it” is something that employees of consultancies, not consultants (employees or independent) do.

Trust me- since I had the stupidest idea in my life (thinking of returning in Italy, a decade ago), I had hundreds of attempts of prove or disprove this or that.

I had rented an apartment since July 2005, but became resident only after I completed a project within the Italian Government, as I saw the brouhaha that having an Italian passport issued abroad created while in Rome 🙂

As my unfortunate turn of events since I tried to settle in Brussels allowed me to spend time to study Europe and the mutual relationships between its Member States as seen from Brussels, Schuman, the same happened with my contacts in Italy since the first time I set foot in Rome, in early 2004.

I had the chance, in my visits to Rome, to see “transitions” between few administrations, and to hear times and again the same promises (e.g. to improve security, remove corruption), usually coupled with “blaming the past administration”.

As I shared few days ago a picture from an American friend on Facebook, I assess the value of an elected office-holder not by what they say or promise (usually they promise before they have access to the information that any reasonable manager would need to make a similar promise in the private sector), but what they do- and how they do it.

I hinted above, and discussed in past, about the “Italian version” of the spoils system: and that is part of the issue, as, once elected, you cannot just choose those that you want, but you have also to “involve” those already scattered around the bureaucracy that feel “a link” with your own political side- also if they had just been hired as a favor to a now-retired politician.

If we, in Italy, had just civil servants, those elected could assume that, as in any bureaucracy, civil servants serve first the State, then their own bureaucracy, and finally the elected officer.

Instead, we have to cope with a completely reversed scale, where the State (i.e. the citizens) come last (if they are at all considered).

So, get ready for more news, more judicial inquiries, more speeches- but, unless “politically sensitive” reforms as those that I listed above are enforced, it will be just more procrastination and hot air- not really worth spending that much time on.

Today it is Sunday, and therefore let’s talk about the personal side.

At last, I recently published another book- but this time in Italian, as it is an evolution of articles on political and advocacy marketing that I published online since 2010 (have a look at the free edition on – for the time being, I published on Amazon only the paper version, and I have no Kindle plans for this book).

I am preparing other books- but only in English, and probably to be released after I will have had some time abroad to “pull the plug”.

For the time being also my latest attempt to work on my language skills and projects while working in Italy in the end was more of the same, i.e. my partner who had hired me and I could have started to work for free- just to discover that, then, the work had been transferred to other suppliers… yet another opportunity (I had many in Italy, since 2004- mainly in Turin and Rome) to work for free, or pay to work, but to support dreams and business belonging to somebody else 🙂

Try asking them to do the same- and you will be presented a bill 😀 It is not my style, so when it happened few years ago, I offered to pay, assuming that, considering how much I had worked for free on the contacts I was talking with, that would be declined, being a fraction of what I had not billed them for my services- well, I received an invoice via email, that I paid promptly 😉

So, I will keep sharing my learning path through the Chinese culture and society, while just listening to Chinese courses to keep “patterns” alive, while waiting for the opportunity to resume proper language learning (i.e. on a regular schedule).

On the German side, beside movies and documentaries (and recent directors, inspired by the release of the movie “Diplomacy”), I picked up in a library in Turin the Italian version of huge biography of Bismarck, that in German is subtitled “the white revolutionary”.

Why? Because, while in Berlin in November 2012, I had bought a used copy of the German edition, planning to use it in Winter 2013 while in the mountains to improve my German skills by trying to translate it, while also completing the work that I had started with the Berija diaries in Russian.

Well, I had a small accident the very first day after the very first night of my stay in the mountains, on October 5th 2013 (detach-attach the right forearm due to a slippery slope in front of the door), and therefore I had to sideline that option.

So, as I doubt that there will be any contract work starting before January (just more “checking” interviews and “prodding” by my local multiple armies of State- and private-sponsored idiots-savants that is so easy to send into a frenzy), the Chinese culture side will be coupled by parallel reading in German and Italian of each chapter.

I will have also other books- and I found a nice complement to “test” my recent re-readings and continuing readings on the Middle East (as the ISIS is an organizational evolution and recurrence of past patterns adapted to the XXI century) during the Christmas holidays, a book from Ludlum “The Icarus Agenda”.

I picked it up in a used book shop because… I liked a movie about a completely different subject, but one that was obviously based on the myth of Icarus, “I comme Icare” (available in French on YouTube).

Next week will be “methodology review week”- I have to get through my books on business methods published from what I still call “OGC” (a UK Government bit).

The reason? Over the next few weeks, I will keep posting my morning news selection, but in 2015, while working on something else (also outside my domain, but hopefully within it), I will have to review my “programme” on change that I started in April 2013, as the continued “Italian nuisances” made it impossible to move, for the foreseeable future, beyond just publishing few more books.

Therefore, I will start publishing material that I had planned to use in my business activities in 2015: better to share it in a form that is both accessible and traceable to the source, than keeping to use it in free work, or let it become stale 🙂

If you have specific subjects (not necessarily about Italy or the EU) that you would like to read something about, let me know- I will either write something, share reviews of books, or post links to relevant articles.

Only caveat: whatever I do for free, goes online- but I publicly acknowledge the source of inspiration (anonymously, if needed).
Have a nice Sunday!


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