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Scandal over MP perks angers austerity-hit Italians

22 july 2011, 12:56
Leaked details of lavish parliamentary privileges are stirring up a wave of anger on social networking sites in Italy at a time of harsh budget cuts imposed to stave off financial ruin, AFP reports.

The accusations come from an anonymous blogger calling himself "Spider Truman" who says his inside knowledge of favours and false expenses is based on years working for Italy's Chamber of Deputies before he was sacked.

His Facebook page is followed by 341,800 people and the number keeps rising.

"Politicians have absurd privileges and exorbitant salaries... It's like we've gone back to the era of the ancient Greeks, with the gods on Mount Olympus deciding the fate of the plebs," blogger Leonardo Monti, 21, told AFP.

"It's time Italy woke up and said 'Enough!' to these injustices," he said.

Spider Truman's blog "The Secrets of the Caste" claims politicians falsely claim stolen goods on in-house insurance, get knock-down rates on their mobile phone bills and even send themselves death threats to qualify for bodyguards.

He has also claimed parliament employs nine hairdressers who each earn 11,000 euros ($16,000) a month. The Chamber later released a statement insisting there are only seven barbers who earn 2,400 euros a month.

Billions are spent each year on MP benefits including chauffeured cars, free aeroplane and train travel, complimentary cinema and theatre tickets and hefty discounts on health care and restaurants, according to Italian media reports.

Italy's politicians are also paid over twice as much as the European average, earning around 11,704 euros a month.

"Parasites and profiteers! There are so many of them, and they have no shame," blogged one Internet user, Valeria.

"They've stolen our future," said Fausto, while Simon warned: "In their eyes we are 60 million puppets ready to put up with anything. But they have to be careful because 60 million are a lot of people... They're playing with fire."

Sergio Rizzo, author of a 2007 bestseller on parliamentary privileges, "The Caste," told AFP Italians were furious that "in a financially difficult moment such as this, politicians are going easy on their own perks."

While Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's third richest man, has not yet reacted to the outcry, business leaders and opposition leaders have called for immediate reductions in politicians' salaries and special pensions.

Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has cut the special pensions -- which media reports say entitle former parliamentarians to an extra 3,000 euros a month on top of their standard pensions -- by five percent, with immediate effect.

But critics complained the cut was minimal and more needed to be done in a hurry, with the head of the Italian employers' federation demanding politicians "lead the way by example" and join Italians in making sacrifices.

Calls for public protests have lit up social networking sites, with disillusioned users comparing Italy's disparity between the ruling class and the hoi polloi to that in France before its revolution in 1789.

"They'll be telling us to eat cake soon," wrote Robcob, while mtmchat said: "What we need is a good public hanging in the square."

Some called for huge national rallies, but others said Italians lack the motivation to change or blamed voters for making bad choices.

"Is no-one watching what is going on in North Africa? Does no-one remember 1968? If a population wants change, it can have it. But we just lie around," wrote Chandy.

F. Rodi said: "We are sheep and we deserve this."

Despite some pessimism on the blogs, Rizzo said he thought it was likely that public outrage would force the government to make further concessions.

Politicians "should pay attention to what's happening online because it's very worrying," he said.

"If there are more than 300,000 people who have clicked "I like" on Spider Truman's Facebook page, it means there are more than 300,000 who have decided to give up on politics... Or at least on the current caste."

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