Archive for Consorzio Venezia Nuova
It’s been a while since I grappled with any serious aspect of Venice today. (History is so much more amusing.) But I feel a strange sense of obligation to update the situation for people who are interested, and who may have the impression from assorted news reports that the city’s biggest problems are tourists or big cruise ships or acqua alta.
Part of my silence is because Venice is in an exceptionally confusing, depressing, and frustrating situation and I am becoming allergic to confusion and frustration. And by reading the daily bulletins, it can be difficult to grasp the big picture. So I’m here to provide it for you.
In my opinion, Venice is living (enduring, suffering) one of those critical moments which occur in every life, whether personal or municipal or national or whatever. I have no doubt that people are already writing books about it, and will continue to do so till the next critical moment strikes, and may it be far, far in the future.
This little update seems appropriate just now because yesterday there was a “primary election” to decide who will be the mayoral candidate from the political party known as PD, or Partito Democratico (Communists). Three men were vying for this nomination from their party, and this is already strange because normally the officers/directors/stringpullers of the party decide who their candidate is going to be. It’s rare for there to be such conflict within a party that the public has to intervene to decide who to run.
The election is scheduled for May 31, and many cities are going to the polls that day. Here in Venice, some politicians have already commented that the state of the city is so catastrophic that it might be better not to waste money on elections, but to just stick with the emergency governor, commissario Vittorio Zappalorto (or someone like him, appointed by the prime minister). I realize that this approach probably shouldn’t be a long-term plan, but if the electorate here were to take seriously the suggestion by one candidate that nobody from the previous city government should be permitted to run, that would leave slim pickings indeed.
My own feeling is that anyone who would want to be mayor of Venice would be someone who would want to scale Everest, walking backwards, and naked. There can’t be much difference between the two adventures — painful for him, and close to futile. Sorry, I meant fatal.
Before I relate any specifics, I share this observation by Professor Guido Vittorio Zucconi which I found on the homepage of the Ateneo Veneto, one of the city’s major cultural institutions which offers lectures and other presentations on a variety of Venetian themes.
He said that the programming of events will undergo some innovations (I translate): “To give more weight to topics tied to the ‘city that is being transformed,’ rather than those of the ‘death of Venice’: the city is not dying, but it is changing radically, showing itself too fragile for the tasks and for the impact which it must sustain every day.”
I’m clear on the fragility and the impact, but it’s the economy that has become the new instrument of daily torture. Basically, Venice doesn’t have an economy anymore.
First, the global economic crisis that began in 2008 dismembered the Italian economy. In an effort to get the country back on a steadier fiscal footing, the parliament — urged on by the heat-seeking missile which is the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi — passed a “Pact of Stability,” intended to establish budgetary limits all over the country and get everybody back on the black side of the ledger. If not? Budget cuts and penalties, and penalties and cuts, all outlined in the Pact.
Second, Venice, which for years has lived on the fat of government money via the “Special Law” for Venice, suddenly found itself not only required to prepare a budget according to the new limits, but one that would be based on real income, and not on subsidies. (Another “subsidy” of sorts, the income from taxes from the Casino, went into a death spiral about the same time.)
The city government tried all sorts of things: selling the Casino (failed), selling palaces (mostly failed), and a few mastodontic projects which instead of creating income, created only debt and grief. And money from the Special Law which had been intended for many uses had been funneled into the pockets and personal bank accounts of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, otherwise known as “MOSE,” leaving everybody else with that “It’s only the sixth of the month and I’ve already spent my entire paycheck” feeling.
In 2005 (before the crisis) the national government passed a special decree called the “Mille Proroghe,” and repeated it each year till 2014 (it skipped 2012). A “thousand deferments” is a rough translation, and was meant to resolve or — better yet — offer extensions to facilitate the resolution of certain urgent financial problems.
But by 2008 Italy was leaping on ice floes across the raging financial river, like Eliza fleeing to Canada, except that unlike Eliza, it fell in. And cities that couldn’t make their budgets balance were on their own, even big cities such as Torino and even Rome.
On June 4, 2014 the city government imploded, and on July 2, 2014, Venice was placed under the administration of a temporary governor, Vittorio Zappalorto, whose assignment was to do whatever it took to force the budget even somewhat close to reality. In one of his first interviews, he said “I’m worried, but I’ll straighten out the accounts.”
That was then. After months of pitiless toil, cuts and slashes everywhere, Zappalorto finally concluded that there was nothing more that could be done to save the ship; he was even quoted as saying that if Rome didn’t step in with funds, all the sacrifices people had been forced to make would have been useless.
But Rome wasn’t feeling Venice’s pain; in fact, there were enough other cities in the same desperate straits that it seemed impossible, if not absurd, to favor one town ahead of the others. Why Venice and not Aquila? (Not a completely rhetorical question.)
Desperate meetings finally produced a way to save Venice from default. At 4:03 AM on February 16, 2015, the “Salva Venezia” (save Venice) amendment was inserted into the Mille Proroghe bill 2015 to be voted on.
This was only slightly good news, because there appeared to be a great reluctance on the part of the Prime Minister to give any special consideration to Venice, and hundreds of parliamentarians from all over Italy weren’t necessarily clear on the reasons why Venice deserves more help than their own region or city.
Of course, cutting spending (good) also means cutting jobs (very bad), and social services, and other non-frivolous aspects of city management. An example of what “cuts” mean: Only one and a half million euros of what ought to be nine million euros were allocated in the budget for 2015 for the 3,000 city employees.
Last year it was the then-mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, who went to Rome pleading for mercy. But now it was Zappalorto, the very man sent specifically by the Prime Minister to shape up the city, who had to step forward to ask for clemency.
On February 22, virtually at the last minute, the “Save Venice” amendment was passed, on the condition that the city’s budget be subject to monthly reviews for the next year. It’s sort of the equivalent of being grounded for the next twelve months.
The problem is how to fill in a hole in the budget that amounts to 56 million euros. I won’t start listing categories and amounts of cuts, or the various exceptions, but it’s worth noting that the city government isn’t going to have money to buy anything for its own daily operation except “paper, office supplies, and toner.” Not made up.
Before leaving this excruciating topic — and before anyone feels too tempted to weep — I have to say that although the city is broke, it has to a certain extent brought this on itself. Essentially, the city maxed-out its credit cards several years ago, and many things it has spent money on have not proved to be useful, and some are sitting half-finished, or not even started, growing weeds.
Somewhere there is a comprehensive list, but I’ll just give a few examples of the money that has been thrown out the windows with wild abandon on the Lido, summarized by the Gazzettino on March 6 under the headline “Projects and public works A flop of 100 million” (euros, rounded down). You may not care about the Lido, nor do I, but the following will demonstrate some part of the mentality which has driven the Good Ship Venice onto the pecuniary reef.
About ten years ago, more or less, a number of huge “improvement” projects were confected which would “re-launch” the island, which had lost its luster and also most of its tourist income.
The star project would be the new Palacinema for the Venice Film Festival, which was designed as a sort of multiplex with numerous theaters; another would be a vast yacht marina at San Nicolo’, a space which would be as big as the Giudecca; and another was the conversion of various buildings which comprise the once quite marvelous (and useful) Ospedale al Mare, or Hospital at the Sea, to private uses such as apartments.
The new Palacinema was approved in 2004; time was spent in the search for additional funding, work began around 2008 with the ripping out of a shady pine grove near the old building, and some excavating began. And then almost immediately stopped, because in 2009 the diggers began to pull up loads of asbestos trash, thrown away by God knows who over the years and then covered up by other occult hands. Nobody thought of taking soil samples before bringing in the backhoes.
And there the Palacinema sits — or rather, the hole sits — frozen in time, and 38,613,000 euros have been spent on a site which remains devastated and on which not one brick has yet been laid. Some wag has put up a street sign with the fictitious but too-true name, “Piazza Quaranta Milioni” (Forty Million Square). It’s a lot to pay for a hole that’s 9 feet (3 meters) deep.
Palacinema, Part 2: Seeing that the costs were rising, the city removed the project managers and installed a commissario, or temporary overseer, which cost an additional 1,500,000 euros. (I can’t explain this, I merely report it.) The financial magistrates stated that this whole affair was a “handbook example” of waste of public money.
Ospedale al Mare: Cleaning up and preparing the areas for the new uses, which have yet to even begin being realized, has cost 1,600,000 euros.
The glorious yacht marina at San Nicolo’: 8,000,000 euros spent, with nothing done so far except court cases with lots of accusations. If I had time (and cared), I’d do more research on what could have cost that much for no results.
New traffic layout on the seafront: 2,000,000 euros spent, with no results so far.
Hotel Des Bains: This legendary landmark Belle Epoque hotel, famous for its starring role in “Death in Venice” (book and film), not to mention its 100 years of fabulous guests, remains closed since the project of turning it into a luxury-apartment complex failed. 30,000,000 euros spent so far, and its extraordinary decorations (fabrics, curtains, furniture) were put up for sale, even on the internet.
So yes, we should feel bad that Venice is broke, but we should also feel bad that it got this way because nobody cared about much of anything but themselves.
Prosperity depends on a simple choice: Make more, or spend less. They just got it backward.
I promise that I will not transform this blog into the daily bulletin from the MOSE hecatomb.
But two days ago (June 14), at the last meeting of the council of ministers, the government did something so extreme — and indisputably necessary and long overdue — that I want at least to make it known.
They abolished the Magistrato alle Acque. An entire government agency with 500 years of history is no more. Yesterday it was, today it is not.
Beginning in October, its responsibilities will be “absorbed” by the Inter-regional Director of Public Works of the three contiguous regions of the Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Trentino Alto Adige.
Of course this is good, but I feel sick at heart. Not only because of the annihilation of one of the last tiny links to the Venetian Republic, but because a gesture of this magnitude shows all too vividly the extent of the rot.
People who occasionally had to request a permit for temporary use of a certain stretch of lagoon have long been aware that the Magistrato was as swampy as Reelfoot Lake. It wouldn’t have been the first city agency whose functionaries accepted the occasional guerdon for speeding up the processing of requests. I’m not saying the employees of the Magistracy did such a thing. I’m just saying that if they did, they wouldn’t have been alone.
The Magistracy of the Waters was established in 1501; it was specifically charged with overseeing the health and security of the lagoon, and any action required — digging, land reclamation, maintenance — had to have its approval.
Care of the lagoon required care of its tributary rivers, too. Venetian engineers diverted the Po River, for God’s sake; between 1600 and 1604, innumerable men with shovels and wheelbarrows cut Italy’s greatest river at Porto Viro and turned it southward. There were many reasons for this, some of them political, some economic, but it was also time to limit the amount of sediment that was filling up the lagoon. The Venetian Republic knew that the care of the lagoon was its primary life insurance.
“Lagoon” (laguna) is a Venetian word, by the way.
But the Magistrato was populated by many individuals who were not all of the same stripe, and in 1678, human nature having demonstrated its impressive dimensions, the Venetian Senate created a group of inquisitors to conduct the legal cases against those accused of having damaged the lagoon. There must be some diabolical hothouse somewhere that causes little tiny crook seedlings to sprout, then sells them to the Magistrato alle Acque where, in its own special microclimate, they can flourish and grow to be big tall leafy crooks.
In fact, I now learn that this is the third time that the Magistrato has been “suppressed,” as the headlines put it, though it’s the first occasion where the reason was crime.
In 1808, during the brief but eventful French domination of the city (1806-1814), the Viceroy Eugene Beauharnais put an end to it, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered. It didn’t take long for it to become evident that this was an error, the neglect having contributed to an assortment of watery damage. When the Austrians took over for the first time (1816-1848), they quickly re-established the Magistrato, reorganized it, renamed some departments, applied a coat of varnish and it was good to go again.
In 1866, when Venice and the Veneto became part of the new nation of Italy, the Magistrato was annulled again, and again a series of hydraulic disasters showed what serious consequences could come from indifference to the state of the waterways.
The Magistrato was reformulated for the third time in 1907 as part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and its authority expanded to cover the entire hydrological basin of northeast Italy — an enormous watershed of rivers, lakes, and other lagoons stretching from Mantova to Trieste. Total area of its authority was some 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles). So when we talk about the misfeasance of the Magistrato, we’re not talking about some little local entity that turned out to have just a few bad apples.
I very sincerely hope that Cuccioletta and Piva, in their respective cells awaiting trial, are happy. Because I’m not, and neither are a whole bunch of other people.
On June 4, the dam broke.
I don’t mean the ingeniously devised dam (a/k/a “MOSE”) still under construction, which is formed by mobile barriers intended to block high water from entering Venice for a few hours every so often. I mean the dam that was the financing of the project.
No one is really surprised. Any public work budgeted at 5 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) is a monumental petri dish for cultivating corruption. But what has stunned just about everybody is the sheer scope of it all. I’ve heard some people say they don’t believe it will ever become completely untangled — names which were given code numbers, foreign accounts, fake receipts, fake financial reports, fake banks, even. All of this created and maintained by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium which had sole power over the administration of the work, the awarding of contracts, and every detail of who and what was involved in the project. Taken altogether, some estimate that the Consorzio paid out 1 billion euros in gifts, favors and graft.
The Northeast, especially members of the Northern League, has spent years sneering at the waste and crime south of Rome, past Naples, deep into the heart of Sicily. The North wanted to secede from the feckless, blood-sucking South. Marches and vigils were held in the “fight against the mafia.”
But no more is the voice of the sneer heard in the land, at least not in the Veneto.
News of the arrest of the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, sped around the world, though he is just one tiny (sorry, Giorgio, but you are, in fact, very tiny) piece of the story. To spend even five seconds thinking about Orsoni is like thinking about a broken fingernail when you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.
Orsoni resigned today, after house arrest, liberation, then plea-bargaining which got him a trifling four-month sentence. To reach this point, we had to endure the usual tedious pantomime.
Day 1: “I didn’t take even one euro.”
Day 2: “I took money but it was for my political party.”
Day 3: “I took money.” How much? 560,000 even-one-euros. Rabbit pellets! Emilio Spaziante, the number-two general of the entire Guardia di Finanza (what I call the Finance Police), was given 2,500,000 euros by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova. Vulture chow! Giancarlo Galan, the former governor of the Veneto Region, got 1,000,000 euros per year for seven years (2005 – 2011).
Back to Orsoni.
Day 4: “I’m not resigning.”
And on Day 5, “I have tendered my resignation.” Orsoni said he is bitter, disillusioned, and is going to leave the perfidious world of politics. He might as well; he already opened the Emergency Exit door himself.
Malfeasance of these dimensions requires a book, not a blog post. A mere book? “Give me a condor’s quill!” Herman Melville cried, staggering at the prospect of describing the white whale; “Give me Vesuvius’ crater as an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms!”
Being a mere mortal, I can only outline a few details here, each of which is plenty.
After five years of unflagging labor, 300 officers of the Guardia di Finanza had assembled enough evidence to validate — nay, require — the arrest of as many as 100 people on charges of corruption, bribes, kickbacks, fraud, influence-peddling, and every form of villainy in which money can play even so much as a walk-on role. The complexity and the dimensions of this titanic construction of crime, begun in the early Nineties, has overwhelmed this project, overwhelmed even its perpetrators.
The edifice began to crumble with the unexpected retirement, on June 28, 2013, of Giovanni Mazzacurati, who spent 30 years at the apex of the Consorzio, first as director general, then as president. He cited reasons of health. He got a 7 million dollar departure bonus. And on July 12, he was arrested for turbativa d’asta, or bid rigging.
At that point, even I knew what would come next: He wasn’t going to go down alone.
A straggling procession of degraded characters marches across the newspaper every day now, carrying the equally monotonous quantities of money — public money dedicated to the project, not private money — which they so eagerly accepted in so many forms, right down to the classic white envelope stuffed with cash.
A judge from the Court of Audit. Members of parliament. Members of the European parliament. Directors of the Magistrato alle Acque, the agency established in 1501 to safeguard the lagoon (Maria Giovanna Piva, director from 2001-2008 and Patrizio Cuccioletta, director from 2008-2011, received 400,000 euros a year to ignore what was being done in the lagoon). Eleven years of good times rolling everywhere in the world of the famous floodgates.
In its report, which runs for many hundreds of pages, the Procura — an official government watchdog entity — said that there was “total confusion in the roles of the controllers and the controlled. No obstacle, no vigilance, no important remark was made by the Magistrato alle Acque under Piva and Cuccioletta.”
Everyone knew something very fishy was up. But the haul has been beyond anyone’s capacity to imagine.
“Corruption” is such a compact word that we tend to lose track of its essential meaning. “Moral perversion; depravity; perversion of integrity; decay: rot; putrefaction.”
MOSE was supposed to save Venice. But nobody could save Venice from MOSE.
I received this comment from an unknown reader, and while it’s right there in the Comments area of my blog, I wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to see it. (I don’t assume that everybody reads the Comments.)
The obvious reply to Emiliano’s rhetorical question is “Of course they don’t want discussion,” to be followed by “Why would they want discussion?” I would be surprised if any data is available, because I doubt that any such research has been done. Because who would care? Except Emiliano, I mean.
I’m an Italian scientist working on anti-fouling alternative solutions in Sweden. I wrote an email to “consorzio venezia nuova” in order to get some informations about the strategies they intend to put in act in order to minimize the risk of malfunction of the caissons as consequence of the formation of large colonies of fouling organism inside and outside the caissons. In my opinion the weight gain caused by the formation of colonies of barnacles and mytilus could make ineffective the floating system, i.e. even if you pump air in the caissons the caissons will rest on the bottom because the 3/4 of the volume will be occupied by fouling organisms. It could have been a great opportunity for cooperation between the consortium and scientific community, a challenging problem to solve together.
But the consortium answered “what kind of paint are you selling?”. The thing is that I’m not selling anything else that several years experience, a great network of anti fouling scientists all over the world and a EU financed project that we started in sept. 2012 and which will deal with similar problematic on cruising surfaces as boats.
I proposed them opportunity, innovation, research, in other world, science, but the Consortium seems more on the let’s make it happen here and now.
Whatever. I still can’t find anywhere some data regarding what countermeasures will be taken in this project as anti-fouling system. This would be great to know, it could help transparency and open a discussion. But maybe it is exactly what has to be avoided. Discussion!
I feel sorry for not being useful as a scientist in my country. This means that i will bit it and will keep doing my impact aboard as I already have done the past few years.
(if someone have some data about the antifouling countermeasure they gone to use please put here some link or reference)