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Job Preferments
by Maria Luisa Romano

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How much is a job worth?Even in a place where people are accustomed to this kind of thing the news was shocking: Over a hundred people from a public "work-fare" program were hired by the city of Palermo as bus drivers but none had the necessary driving license. To make matters worse, the city councilman responsible for this fiasco had seen to it that around a dozen people related to members of his political party had obtained public-sector jobs --beginning with his own youngish wife. At first he had tried to conceal their identities but other council members eventually used legal action to obtain the information. No wonder, seeing as his own wife was at the top of the list, but none of the "dirty dozen" seems to have been particularly qualified for the jobs they were given. In addition to them, almost 400 public employees were recently hired based on preferments rather than examinations (most of these were also friends or relatives of various politicians), and it was revealed that an additional 70 are paid 800 euros per month to count street sewer drains. More precisely, 50 count the drains and the other 20 check to ensure that the 50 are present and working. This mass hiring of friends and family occurs as Sicily reduces by 1700 the number of beds in public hospitals.

The Corriere della Sera, published in Milan, ran the story about these preferments, and so did La Repubblica (in its Palermo edition), yet it was initially ignored by the Sicilian newspapers, prompting speculation about the political associations of their editors. Regardless of who reports it, the employment situation in Sicily is nothing short of disastrous.

An old story, perhaps, but the most recent local response indicates at least that times, and attitudes, are slowly (very slowly) changing. Especially among a younger, and generally better-educated, generation of Sicilians the idea of job appointments based on acquaintanceship rather than merit is losing its appeal. The newspaper articles made the point that the councilman mentioned (supposedly born in the early 1950s though he looks much older) has no greater academic qualification than a diploma from a technical school, while his wife apparently had little more education than he does; this situation doesn't play well among younger people who spend years at university in the hopes of finding some kind of job, often settling for a position in a call center.

Nepotism and cronyism are bad enough --if widely accepted as facts of life in Italy. The issue that caught the attention of the press, of course, was the hiring of "bus drivers" who must be trained to drive buses, while dozens of qualified (trained) applicantsThe original article. are rejected. The hundred hires are part of the LSU programme, set up over a decade ago to give public jobs, often in useless roles, to people who apparently can't find anything else --but even getting into this program, which pays around 500 euros per month, requires a recommendation (preferment). Before being hired by the city's bus company, the LSU employees did things like staffing libraries or city offices, or operating tourist information booths. When they entered the program some were still in their twenties; the new, aspiring "bus drivers" are now closer to forty years old.

Unfortunately, this scandal is just one of many occurrences of its kind. A few well-educated Palermitans were thoroughly disgusted, but the fact that the incumbent mayor and the offending councilman were re-elected just two weeks following the public revelations (the former by a margin of about 7%) clearly indicates that the events were not sufficient to influence most voters. Instead of criticizing the corrupt preferment system, most Sicilians just look for a way to benefit from it personally.

What awaits young Sicilians searching for jobs that pay a decent wage? Are better employment opportunities just around the corner? Hardly. If anything, the situation is getting worse. (Just ask any Sicilian living outside Sicily --or outside Italy-- why he or she doesn't live and work here in Sicily.) This most recent scandal (in which no laws were actually broken) is just one minor incident in a discouraging series of events. The other side of the coin is the growing number of young adults in Sicily who don't want to work any available job, desiring instead a prestigious, well-paid position entailing little work. For now, such aspirations remain little more than a dream.

About the Author: Maria Luisa Romano has written for various Italian magazines, including this one.

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© 2007 Maria Luisa Romano