Dismissal of Italian agency chief sparks row

Outgoing environment agency head blames government over delayed start-up

The dismissal of the head of Italy's environment agency (the ANPA) has sparked a row over slow progress in fulfilling the organisation's mandate and over the government's choice of successor.

Formally launched in early 1995, the ANPA did not get its first board of directors for more than a year. Currently, it still has less than half of its planned complement of technical staff, and regional offices supposed to be created in every Italian region are still not operational anywhere in the south of the country, with the sole exception of the Basilicata region. Even the regions around Rome and Milan still do not have operational ANPA regional offices.

Debate over the causes of these delays has now been prompted by the replacement of the ANPA's chief, Mario Signorino, by former head of Rome's environmental services organisation, Walter Ganapini. Mr Ganapini's appointment was announced last week, after the government failed to re-appoint Mr Signorino at the end of his three-year mandate.

Announcing the change, environment minister Edo Ronchi said he had full trust in Mr Ganapini's technical expertise. But Friends of the Earth Italy has attacked the appointment as likely to damage the agency's credibility and independence. The organisation alleges that Mr Ganapini was chosen because of political connections with the government, and describes his record as "less than satisfactory". It also fears that the network of cooperation which the agency established with Italian technical and scientific bodies may now be endangered.

Mr Signorino has also attacked the government, in a report on the agency's first three years released days before his dismissal was announced. In the report, Mr Signorino blamed the government for delays in making the agency fully operational and for lack of funds.

"The agency was left with no instruments or resources [to help it compete] with the pre-existing bureaucratic structure," he wrote. He remarked that until early 1997 the ANPA was still unable to liaise officially with the European Environment Agency because this role was retained by the environment ministry.

However, Mr Signorino also stressed that the agency had achieved important things during his three-year tenure. "For the first time, a technical environmental sector is being created nationwide," he wrote. "This is an irreversible phenomenon which in the future will allow Italy to play an active role in shaping environmental policy at EU level."

Follow Up:
ANPA +39 6 500 071; Friends of the Earth, Italy +396 687 5308.

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