A recent Italian law made headlines this past week that aims to tackle corruption and to repair the Italian government’s image after the widely criticized Berlusconi administration. Prime Minister Mario Monti made it a priority to fast track the bill through both houses in the legislature. The bill, which was ironically drafted during the Berlusconi administration, languished in Parliament limbo for two years before being passed through both the Upper House and the Chamber of Deputies.
The law broadens the definition of corruption by making influence peddling a crime. Campaign financing also has to be more transparent and open to public record. It also provides longer criminal sentences for public officials who demand bribes and protects whistle blowers by guaranteeing anonymity. The last hurdle the law faced was determining if a past conviction of corruption barred a public official for running for reelection, which the bill did end up also prohibiting.
The Berlusconi administration and its exit marked the pinnacle of nearly two decades of corruption within the Italian government. Except for Greece, Italy was ranked as the most corrupt European government by Transparency International’s global corruption ranking in 2011. The law, which passed 228 – 33 in the Upper House, signals a new direction the government is taking to commit itself to transparency and being legitimate in the eyes of the Italian electorate and externally to the world. The Italian people strongly supported the measure by sponsoring a petition with 300,000 plus signatures advocating for its passage.
Despite the strong support for the law and the stronger measures it provides to tackle corruption, various critics have described the bill as not strong enough in tackling what many consider to be a national emergency of corruption. While the bill cannot be expected to correct what has been in place for nearly two decades, the bill marks a promising new step not only by the government but also from the Italian people. It provides a legal framework that makes it easier to prosecute bribery in a culture where cronyism and bribery had become the norm. Ultimately, the bill’s success relies on its enforcement and the government’s ability and readiness to prosecute those who violate it. The next few years will be telling in discovering if the government is serious in taking a new step towards repairing the tarnished image of government left by its disgraced former prime minister.