ISTAT detectives probe Italian corruption

working women

ROME - A study by ISTAT, Italy’s National Institute for Statistics, caught my eye called “corruption in Italy: the citizen’s point of view.” I contacted Maria Giuseppina Murastore, a member of the team responsible for this work, to give her insight into the findings.

 The issue with presenting numbers on a page is that they require interpretation. At once this is the strength of statistical analysis; they cut through anecdotal evidence, stereotypes, and assumptions, yet new assumptions need to be created, personal experience needs to be reinterpreted through the understanding of the new context. This is why speaking to Maria was an excellent opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the inner workings of Italian society

 The results of this study were not all that surprising to Maria, 7.5 percent of Italian households have been asked, or made to understand, that some sort of gift, 60 percent of which were cash gifts, would result in favourable outcomes. As Maria said, this can be thought of as “greasing the wheels.” The most corrupt region of Italy, by this metric, was Lazio in which 17.9 percent have been put in this situation.

 “Corruption is a difficult thing to measure,” explained Maria, “the connections between people, the networks, are the important thing. It is very hard to get people to answer honestly. Narrowing the field to this very specific form allows us to quantify one element of the big picture.”

 Employment was, unsurprisingly, the most corrupt area in which 3.2 percent of people were asked to bribe their way into a job. In a struggling job market, it seems, desperate times call for desperate measures.

 Health and welfare services were the next highest, 2.4 and 2.7 percent respectively. These statistics speak to non-urgent medical issues: if one were to be sick and wanted to skip the queue in an overburdened public health sector or receive privileged care, it makes sense to pay your way to the top. Another statistic that cannot be counted as true corruption because it is not illegal in Italian law is that 11 percent will be told that if they pay money for a private consultation with a Doctor then they will have improved outcomes of medical treatment. This improvement in service speaks to the doctor being able to connect the client with better medical professionals within the public sector and, therefore, improve the patient’s care.

 I noticed that 4.3 percent of gift requests were for sexual favours, a statistic that concerned me greatly but that Maria said was statistically very small. The sector most guilty for this was education, professors or administrative staff utilising their position to get sex in exchange for passing grade or admissions.

 Maria pointed my attention to another study that addressed the issue of sexual exploitation in the workplace head on. Shockingly 7.5 percent of women from 15-65 have, in one form or another, have been asked to use their sexuality to benefit them in the workplace. Most of these requests took the form of asking whether or not the woman was single in situations such as job interviews (4.5 percent) yet 3.9 percent of women have experienced direct sexual requests in order to get a job or further their career.

 More disturbing, perhaps, than the request is the fate that befalls these women: 34 percent quit, 11 percent are fired, 1.3 percent are moved elsewhere within the company. 1.4 percent submit to these requests, meaning that just over 1 in 1000 women in Italy have been forced into a situation by their co-workers or boss in which they feel they must sleep with them, and 33 in 1000 have lost their job because they wouldn’t. While 6.5 percent of these abusers “go away,” the numbers have no changed across the years, sadly indicating that the culture is not changing.

 I asked Maria, as a private citizen, what these statistics say about Italy. “80 percent of these women do not tell anyone which is not surprising given the sensitivity of the subject. In terms of corruption, 40 percent don’t speak up because they feel that no one cares, 10 percent because they feel that this is the way things work. In terms of both, repercussion from authorities need to be reliable for people to feel that speaking up is worth while. The stereotype that this behaviour is tolerated or common, perpetuation largely by the media’s coverage of events that are the exception and not the norm, gives the impression that this is indeed the way that this country works when the data shows that it isn’t nearly that common. Bureaucracy needs to improve so that ‘speeding up’ services or the response of justice won’t be necessary. A new culture surrounding this sort of thing needs to be created for there to be real change.”