When in Rome, Don’t Do As Virginia Raggi Does
Virginia Raggi, the newly appointed mayor of Rome, is facing pushback after news outlets revealed a minister she appointed, Paola Muraro, was under investigation during the twelve years she spent as a garbage disposal consultant. Trash disposal is an infrastructure necessity for all cities, but only in Italy is trash synonymous with organized crime, corruption, and intimidation.
Trash collection has been an extremely profitable industry for the Italian mafia, and scores of local politicians have been happy to give it control of refuse. In the mid-2000s, the streets of major cities in the South, such as Naples, were filled with thousands of pounds of garbage. Regional dumps were at full capacity and even though government emergency funding was granted, the money disappeared and the appointed commissioners failed to solve the problem. Under the state of emergency protocols, local governments were allowed to quickly hand out contracts without going through the correct legal vetting of contractors used in other cities–and this allowed the Camorra (a particular syndicate) to expand its practice into a billion dollar profit generator. The corruption behind trash collection has not gone unnoticed–reports of the mafia dumping trash in Germany and illegally dumping so much toxic waste that cancer rates in the region began rising have become commonplace, but acknowledging the problem has not translated into solving it. In many countries, trash disposal issues would be written off as a minor mismanagement but in Italy, the history behind trash corruption makes the investigation into Muraro front page news.
At a hearing this week, Virginia Raggi confirmed that she was aware of the investigation into Muraro’s past but had not thought that it was necessary to share this information with the public. The trash scandal is hardly Raggi’s only problem: multiple ministers have resigned from her administration (including Carla Romana Ranieri, a well-known anti-corruption figure), she is grappling with a bid to host the 2024 Olympics, and as Rome’s first female mayor, her every action is judged through the prism of her gender.
Unfortunately for Raggi, the trash scandal has put her Five Star Movement–a populist, anti-establishment Eurosceptic movement–in a difficult spot right before the elections. The incumbent Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has gotten a boost in the popularity thanks to Raggi’s missteps. Before this scandal, the Five Star had overtaken Renzi, whose numerous reforms to political and economic systems have stirred up anger and distrust among voters. As Raggi struggles to right herself just weeks into her tenure as mayor, doubts are being raised regarding the capabilities of the Five Star movement, which was not originally organized to be a formal political party and has never had a precise platform. Despite being a party that promotes itself as environmentally conscious and operating outside of the traditional corrupt networks of the political world, the Five Star movement seems to have delivered more of the same. For the city of Rome, which has struggled to assert itself as capable of being just as productive and functional as a Northern city such as Milan, this scandal is an regression that embarrasses the city not only on the world stage but domestically, confirming some Northern beliefs that Rome is still too backwards to succeed.