Conservation Italy

Italian auditors have yet to approve Great Pompeii Project management post

As a wall tumbles on the site, financial review could block appointment of archaeologist overseeing €105m restoration plan

Workers at Pompeii protest last year over late pay

It may be premature to celebrate the progress made by the Italian ministry of culture with the nomination of a new superintendent to oversee the “Great Pompeii Project”, as a long list of problems, mainly tied to the country’s cripplingly slow bureaucracy, still threatens to engulf the plan and sink it before it can be put into action.

A bureaucratic trial

In January, the then culture minister Massimo Bray nominated Massimo Osanna, a professor of archaeology from the University of Basilicata, to manage the €105m initiative, funded by the EU and Italian government, to safeguard the famous ancient site. Giovanni Nistri and Fabrizio Magani were named director general and deputy director of the project in December (The Art Newspaper, January, p42). Osanna was selected because Bray, who was replaced by Dario Franceschini as culture minister during the elections in late February, wanted a specialist far removed from the country’s politics so that they would be able to operate efficiently.

Italian politics, however, has already caught up with him. The Corte dei conti, the institution that audits public expenditure, is conducting a spending review that could block Osanna’s appointment on the grounds that his role constitutes an additional expense for the ministry at a time when it should be cutting back on costs. Also, other applicants for the position from within the ministry of culture have objected against Osanna's appointment. The auditing body was expected to resolve these issues in late February. Ossana's position, however, is not yet official.

Even if Osanna’s nomination can withstand this bureaucratic trial, he cannot realistically be expected to fulfil the task without the specialist staff required to carry out the job. A team of 20 cultural heritage experts and five specialists in law, economics, urban planning and architecture has yet to be provided by the ministry. So far, the Pompeii superintendency’s press office has remained tight-lipped about when this might happen.

Ossana joined Nistri in Rome for an emergency meeting on Pompeii on Tuesday. The meeting was called by Franceschini following three more collapses at the ancient site in recent days: heavy rains brought down two walls and stones fell from an arch at the Temple of Venus.

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