SHAFAQNA – Romans once boasted that they lived in the world’s most beautiful city, but these days residents spend hours on “Roma fa Schifo”, a blog whose name means Rome is Disgusting. It carries photos of graffiti, potholes and litter on streets clogged by double-parked cars, and lists complaints about piazzas filled with stalls selling knocked-off goods which give Rome the feel of a third world country.
However, Romans now know why simple services, such as litter picking and tidying up parks have been so bad: they had been taken over by a gang of former neo-fascists and murderers. In a decade it had picked up 165 contracts worth €11 million (£8.6 million). “Now we know why the drains get blocked with leaves and Rome floods every time it rains,” said Massimiliano Tonelli, 36, who runs the blog.
In the wake of other public works scandals this year, linked to Venice’s flood barrier and Milan’s Expo world fair, the emergence of the Rome mafia was another reminder to Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, that if he really wants to trim Italy’s €2.2 billion debt and end the country’s recession, tackling corruption is a vital first step.
Salvatore Buzzi, the brains behind the gang, won contracts for maintaining greenery, but left parks strewn with litter and felled trees for no reason.
When Buzzi was arrested earlier this month, police also raided the home of a council official running the city’s gardening service and found €570,000 hidden behind a wall. Franco Panzironi, the former head of refuse collection, who has been arrested, was allegedly pocketing €15,000 month from the gang to keep the contracts coming.
Buzzi’s preferred business was managing the city’s Roma camps. “Buzzi was not only pocketing money destined for the camps but may have provided cover for gangs that operated inside them, who burn wiring stolen from street lights and railways for the copper, meaning Rome streets are being left in darkness,” said Mr Tonelli. A convicted killer who hired ex-prisoners and won favour with left-wing councillors, Buzzi teamed up with Massimo Carminati, a former neofascist terrorist well connected at the town hall after 2008, when another neo-fascist, Gianni Alemanno was elected.
Even the services Buzzi did not get his hands on have slipped. Transport managers allegedly printed fake bus tickets for profit, while firms mending roads spread a fresh layer of asphalt without removing the old one, raising the road and thus blocking drains.
“I am convinced there are other Buzzis out there who haven’t been caught yet,” said Mr Tonelli. Earlier this month, a report said that the economy would be 20 per cent bigger if Italy had cracked down on corruption. “If we could get people to stop dodging their bus fare, maybe they would be less inclined to shut their eyes to the corruption ruining everything around them,” said Mr Tonelli.
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