Amid Corruption Scandal, Venice is Drowning

Venice, Italy, view of the Main Harbour in front of Saint Mark Basilica, Photo by Moyan Brenn

Venice, Italy, view of the Main Harbour in front of Saint Mark Basilica, Photo by Moyan Brenn

VENICE, Italy— Climate change and political corruption are drowning the city of Venice. As high tides flooded the city Wednesday, Mayor Giorgio Orsoni of Venice was placed under house arrest.

According to the ANSA News Agency, Orsoni is officially accused of corruption, extortion and money laundering involving a public works project for underwater barriers that would prevent the city’s intensifying flooding.

The five billion euro public works project, dubbed the “Moses barriers” has been planned since 1966, but began just eleven years ago. As the result of ocean levels rising from climate change, Venice has been seeing increased flooding of the city.

The Moses barriers are supposed to limit the flooding from the Adriatic Sea. According to TheTelegraph, the project will construct 78 steel gates across over a mile of three inlets that lead to the sea. They also say when dangerous high tide is predicted, giant 300-ton panels will be raised to prevent excessive flooding.

The project is being handled by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova consortium, whose president was arrested last year on corruption charges involving the project, The New York Times reported. Mayor Orsoni is charged with being bribed by Consorzio Venezia Nuova so that they would be contracted with the Moses barriers project. The Telegraph claims he used the illicit bribes to fund his campaign for election. He has denied these charges calling them “barely credible”.

The mayor is one of 35 arrested for their involvement in the corruption scandal. Italian authorities claim that more than twenty-five million euros from the project bribed politicians. The money was then deposited into slush funds in Switzerland and San Marino and then used to fund foreign political parties. The Daily Mail reported prosecutors Luigi Delpino and Carlo Nordio said, “The investigation shows that a great portion of the funds was used to finance political forces at the city, regional and national level, and corrupt high-level public officials.”

An MP and former Italian culture minister, Giancarlo Galan, is one of those also being charged. He is said to have been bribed with 200,000 euros by Consorzio Venezia Nuova to speed-up finalizing their contract, according to The Telegraph. But besides politicians, businessmen and a retired police general are also being implicated with the corruption after a three-year investigation.

The Moses barriers scandal is just one of many; Italy has been riddled with political corruption scandals as of late. The Moses barriers scandal comes just one week after politicians were charged with corruption crimes surrounding the Milan 2015 world’s fair expo. Also, many high-ranking Italian officials have been arrested recently on other unrelated corruption and embezzlement charges, according to The Guardian. Notably, they say a former interior was charged with helping a businessman flee the country to avoid being sentenced with mafia association.

The country was sixty-ninth on Transparency International's rank of countries with threats of corruption. To combat the country’s recent bouts with corruption, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi created an anti-corruption authority. He has since put the authroity’s president, Raffaele Cantone, in charge of the Milan world’s fair expo as a result of the corruption there. The prime minister faces even more difficulties with corruption after the Moses barriers scandal.

Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Mugabe, A Comparison of Current African Elections


Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:50 a.m. DST, 21 August 2013

President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, Photo by Abayomi Azikiwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Despite optimistic reviews and marks of approval from neighboring countries and multilateral institutions, democratic elections in modern day Africa still leave a lot left to be desired in several categories. A prime example of this can be seen with the current post-election situation in Zimbabwe.

President Robert Mugabe, who is 89 years old and has been the head of state since 1987, just received another electoral "win" after the country's elections that took place on July 31st.

International watchdogs held their breath as the voting process and results took place as the last Zimbabwean national election in 2008 ended in violence as opponent Morgan Tsvangirai's supporters were attacked. This forced Tsvangirai to back out of the race to avoid further damage to his supporters, but it didn't keep him from running again in this election.

Although the results announced Mugabe as the winner with the vast majority of the votes, post-election details are emerging that there may have been election rigging completed by his ZANU political party.

For example, there are some constituencies listed that have more recorded voters than actual residents which resulted in over 800,000 duplicated names on voter lists. This is a gross human rights violation as it rips citizens of their right to vote and have a voice in their government.

Having the nation's governing political party violate its duty to be transparent and accountable will no doubt leave a national feeling of resentment and anger with the governing coalition that will persist until there are truly fair elections.

However, Mugabe and his ZANU party are not the only ones to blame, and it is suggested that some foreign investors may also be behind the election scheme. Foreign organizations that have certain obligations and interests like European and Chinese investors, diamond mining firms, and neighboring countries may have also played a part behind the scenes in making sure that Mugabe could stay in power and continue to pursue their goals.

Although Zimbabwe is a staunch reminder of where elections and political systems in Africa need to improve upon, there are some glimmers of hopes in other countries on the continent. In the Mali elections that concluded in the past few days, the ex-Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse conceded to the Former Prime Minister Ibrahim Keita after the runoff. Originally, Cisse had some complaints about potential fraud in the electoral process, but he soon after made the decision to peacefully concede and even congratulate Keita on his victory. This peaceful example of transition is impressive as it required no violence or force in order to decide on a winner.

Because the elections were settled in a peaceful, smooth, and fair process, there has been a general national sentiment of the citizens being happy with how the election went and that the country is making steps towards a more stable and prosperous state of affairs. A European Union observe even said that from a democratic point of view, the election was a success. This brings hope to the country that Mali can create a new trajectory for itself after months of instability where rebels in the North seized parts of the country and eventually forced French troops to intervene. After several tumultuous and devastating months, the elections in Mali have thus far served as a beacon of hope and building block for a strong future.

In the coming years, it will be vital for African countries to institute and follow through with truly free and fair elections so that its citizens will be content and able to trust the government. Elections can prove to be a turning point in a country's history, and the trajectory of Zimbabwe and Mali from their current elections onward could prove to be a telling comparison on how elections and political transition are vital to a healthy country.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols