Administering legality: the challenging job of a Mayor

What does Mafia actually mean?

There are symbolic places in Italy, municipalities that have been a symbol for two reasons: first for the Mafia, and then for redemption and rebirth. Among these we can mention Corleone, in Sicily, and Casal di Principe in Campania. Yet, these places are municipalities and territories requiring Administration. The most delicate and complex phase occurs when the media lights turn off. Before, there was the Camorra, while after, there is freedom. The assumption is that everything is in order, that the roads repair by themselves, that the services are excellent, and that separated waste collection is perfectly organised. However, the reality is quite distinct. To investigate what ‘the aftermath’ is, Renato Natale, Mayor of Casal di Principe, explains its daily routine of Administration. As a medical doctor (now retired), he founded the ‘Jerry Masslo’ Association with other colleagues at the end of the 1980s. As a Don Peppe Diana friend, he has been suffering various intimidations, which have never undermined his commitment.

What does it mean to administer a town like Casal di Principe? What is the main difficulty a mayor encounters in administering a symbolic town, rather than an ordinary one, both negatively and positively?

Prejudice is undoubtedly an issue: for most, Casal di Principe still means organised crime. From the very beginning, one of our goals has been to change the meaning of the term ‘casalese’ in the collective imagination. We have managed to do a lot, but even today, we sometimes face heavy and humiliating stereotypes, which are difficult to reverse. However, Casal di Principe has become, over the years, a symbol of redemption and resurgence. Many people try to understand how this change has been possible, as it sometimes seems to be an absolute miracle. The struggle to redeem one’s identity as a free community is now coupled with the effort to manage this new identity, make it develop, and make it increasingly full of significance and good practice. What is required is cultural action to intervene on awareness and restructure behavioural models and lifestyles: an effort that is as ambitious as necessary.

“Legality’ is a simple word to say, of immediate meaning. How does bureaucracy, the strict application of the law, become an obstacle to it? Is it a paradox to pose the issue in these terms?

“Legality’ is a difficult word to define. What does it mean? A set of established rules? A shared sense of justice? In reality like ours – where illegality corresponded to heavy criminal actions that substantially impacted the citizens’ everyday life – talking about legality meant for many years talking about freedom. Freedom from the oppression of the Camorra. Applying the laws of the democratic State has intended, in this way, re-establishing the principles of civil coexistence based on respect for people and a sense of community. But today, it can sometimes be challenging to reconcile the term legality with the term justice or the protection of rights. One example is the fight against illegal building. Here in Casal di Principe we have more than 2,000 unauthorised dwellings – about 150 have already been subjected to a final order entailing the demolition of the buildings, which are often primary residences inhabited by families who are also in distress. Here the economic and social costs and the human ones run the risk of being so severe that respect for legality is seen as a clear injustice, not as a way to return to civil life, but as the latest oppression of a despotic government. For about 30 years, we must remember how this city was dominated by one of Italy’s most powerful criminal clans. During those years, the only law to be respected was dictated by the bosses, who pursued their associates’ interests. Citizens were given no other guarantees, no other orientation, no other points of reference. It was the social climate in which the entire community of Casal di Principe lived for decades. It led to the growth of a town without rules or, instead, with ‘other’ laws.

Every wall, column or partition built meant money and wealth for the clans, who controlled the entire construction sector, from quarries to warehouses, from cement factories to the transport of materials and the construction companies themselves. The citizens were often either unwitting accomplices or powerless victims. Every house built represented power and enrichment for the Camorristi and their empire. After decades of criminal law, today, the rule of the State finally applies, resulting in legality but, in this case, with the harsh and insensitive face of bulldozers, blind to the phenomenon as a whole, and risking to put entire families on the street who have no other home or other resources. And this also comes at a very high cost for the community. Each house demolished costs the local authority – and therefore the community as a whole – about 200,000 euro. It is an extremely high and unsustainable economic burden.

There is a danger of a new financial collapse, and we do not have the necessary resources currently to assist fragile people and families in need. We cannot provide services and civil infrastructure to the city (such as roads, lighting, sewage system and more). In the end, we are risking that a severe state attitude – ignoring the contexts and histories that led to these situations, could cause a cultural backlash. In this general climate, some might think that probably ‘it was better before when criminals ruled. It is a too high risk, which we can’t take. It would be a too hard blow to the changing process that we have been so hardly undertaken. We must, therefore, proceed with both mind and heart to find adequate solutions. The goal is that “legality” continues to represent a moment of collective growth and civil cohesion, with respect for the fundamental rights of all, solidarity and justice, and not as a simple “obligation” or “constraint” from above.

Does a municipality, a territory, revive just because a municipal administration is changed, or what are the other essential elements needed to trigger change?

A municipal administration is representative of the society that expresses it. The condition for a healthy administration  – in the pursuit of change – in a community that becomes aware of how much more convenient it can be to manage public affairs in a transparent, honest way, in the name of defending rights, rather than in practice based on oppression, corruption and patronage. To build a new community, finally representing an alternative to the criminal one, takes a long and hard road, made up of many small steps. It starts with the example set by those who take charge of that change. In Casal di Principe, it has taken over 20 years of struggle, resistance, and sometimes isolated testimony. Gradually this has nurtured a collective awareness capable of overcoming one’s little interests and has led to increasingly large groups of citizens moving towards cultural and political change.

Inheriting a municipality with a financial collapse – or with a not precisely healthy budget – is – among other complex issues – one to be solved.  An honest administration is called upon to resolve, in a brief timeframe, decades of neglect and mismanagement. Isn’t that a mission impossible to ask of administrators?

It is undoubtedly a demanding mission. Sometimes you may even think it is impossible. Still, then you feel that it is, on the other hand, a significant challenge to be achieved. Only by succeeding you can prove to yourself and the community that we can do it. Moreover, you can also confirm it to those sometimes looking at you distractedly from the sidelines, possibly still with the idea that here in the South, we cannot administrate ourselves – that we can do it.

We are succeeding, albeit with difficulty. Of course, it still takes time, and we need to remove the incrustations of a heavy past, but we have already done a lot. For example, we have emerged from bankruptcy. Despite the constant risk, our accounts are now in order, as we were saying, of relapsing and despite the seriously damaged municipal resources, which still make it challenging to provide services.

As a mayor, what is your perspective over the dissolution of the Municipal Councils for criminal infiltration?

Is the tool still valid, or should it be improved? Besides, it is worth mentioning that while a Municipal Council is dissolved due to criminal infiltration, the technicians cannot be dismissed or moved, as if the Administration were solely responsible. In contrast, the proceedings sometimes show the exact opposite.

The system has been working and can still work, although it certainly needs to be improved considering the experience accumulated over the years. The issue of the administrative structure is undoubtedly crucial. Often, investigations show that it is the officials who are corrupt or collude. However, other times it is the administrators who are involved. But we have to beware of unfounded accusation or too quick corruption charges, which can then prove to be unfounded. Greater caution and more careful investigation of both politicians and officials are needed, avoiding errors that have been increasingly present in the recent dissolution of Municipal Councils decisions.



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