City employees recently hit the classroom in Florence in what has been billed as Italy’s first anti-corruption class for public officials.
The country suffers from an image of endemic organized crime in the form of the Mafia and, more recently, with news accounts of scandals that have tainted some of its public works projects.
And its former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was also quoted as saying: “Paying a bribe abroad is a matter of necessity.”
The classroom lessons in Florence are targeting more mundane problems — where friendly reciprocity can easily cross the line into nepotism or bribery and people turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, the Associated Press reported Monday.
“The issue is to make bureaucrats and citizens understand that this type of behavior is not correct anymore, you can no longer do this,” said Marco Giuri, one of the course’s teachers. “Because, in our mentality, it’s not corruption, it’s just help. It’s not that you are paying for a service, but it’s simply a favor between contacts, a relative, or the fact that he’s a friend.”
The school is part of Italy’s recent shift to focusing on preventive instead of punitive measures to fight corruption, introduced by its 2012 anti-corruption law.
Under the new rules, each city administration must appoint an anti-corruption compliance officer to monitor problems and map out new anti-corruption and transparency plans.
The rules also require more disclosure by lobbyists, bans influence peddling, and disqualifies anyone from holding public office after a conviction for bribery.
At the Florence course, instructors tell their students to focus on locating the problems and encourage employees to call — day or night — to report suspicions of corrupt behavior.
Teachers tell the public officials to create plans to educate the office on what constitutes corruption and to keep copious records of their actions.
“The concept of corruption, according to our law, is much wider that simply bribes, extortion or kickbacks,” teacher Giuri said. “Not complying with the working hours, not respecting service orders, not performing work functions, all fall within this very broad concept of anti-corruption.”
He said that even if the law says that whistleblowers should not face discrimination, protection is still weak, because it’s a huge challenge to erase the stigma associated with being a “spy.”
Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.