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phantom school? Living in Sicily, one accepts that certain situations occur
which might not be encountered elsewhere. While some of this could be attributed
to the collective personality of the people, much of it results from economic
conditions or even social ones. People need money, see no simple way to
obtain it (for most people the Italian economy generally offers less opportunity
than what is available, for example, in the United States), and therefore
seek alternatives to clientelism, bureaucracy, and the usual suspicion on
the part of bank loan officers. Sometimes they even seek a solution within
the corrupt system of financing of businesses and public projects Whatever
the causes, some of the results are nothing short of amazing.
One of the more interesting recent incidents was the funding of a private
school which, except on paper, had no teachers, students, classrooms or
graduates. Under a public program the school was "founded" by
an inventive Sicilian who exploited weak governmental controls, though authorities
from the Finance Ministry eventually discovered the scam. But for some time
the owner maintained a deceptive facade, even going to the effort of issuing
diplomas to students he "invented."
The problem is that these activities are increasingly widespread, and
they're especially disturbing where funds earmarked for education end up
in an offshore bank account in the Caribbean. That's exactly what happened
to the monies that an infamous Palermitan "professor" obtained
from the Sicilian Region and the European Union to develop a training program
for young writers, graphic designers and tourism "experts" which,
in the end, he appropriated for himself while actually offering very little
actual learning to anybody.
A great deal of this corruption is really a
matter of poor administration or misplaced priorities. At Palermo's liceo
linguistico (a language high school) students staged a protest because,
after several years, they still did not have the gymnasium (or physical
education classes) required by law. Yet
a cadre of "consultants" for Sicily's regional government annually
"earn" over two hundred thousand euros (more than the presidents
or prime ministers of some G-8 nations) simply because they're the friends
of influential politicians.
Whatever the conditions may be in the political realm, the idea of somebody
starting a school that never admits a single student is more than enough
to surprise the average person, even here in Sicily. More shocking is the
fact that so few of these charlatans ever face justice, yet alone serve
actual jail time. Most get nothing more than "house arrest" and
a slap on the wrist. It is not just a few, but the whole of society that suffers.
About the Author: Roberto Paglia has written several articles for this publication relating to social topics.