Culture ministry condemned over running of archaeological sites

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Italy’s Court of Auditors has released a damning report entitled An Enquiry into the State of Maintenance of Archae­ological Sites. The report is fiercely critical of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Mibac, the Ministry for Cultural Heritage), its organisation and the way its responsibilities are divided up between national, regional and local bodies. 

Out with the old: former Italian Culture Minister Sandro Bondi in the ancient city of Pompeii [Credit: The Art Newspaper]

The 52-page document examined the three-year period from 2007 to 2009. The auditors focused on the maintenance, security and management of Italy’s most important archaeological sites and concluded that the amount of money needed “far exceeds the available resources, although there is no doubt that the proper conservation and promotion of this heritage would have a positive impact on the tourist industry”. The report added that 15 million visits are made to archaeological sites in Italy each year, representing the “driving force of cultural tourism in Italy”. 

The exchange of information between the ministry, the superintendencies (the local arms of the ministry) and regional agencies is inadequate, the auditors found. In a time of reduced public spending, it said it was all the more important to have “greater transparency” on spending priorities and procedures. In particular, the court pointed to a “serious lack of control” over the activities of the superintendencies. These routinely fail to inform Mibac’s general director of works being carried out to conserve and protect sites. 

The court was also highly critical of the government’s frequent use of “emergency powers” to set up commissions to intervene in sites such as Pompeii (the use of these emergency powers was terminated in June 2010). 

The auditors said it was unacceptable that there is still no central database covering excavations, the cataloguing of finds and collections, or counting visitors and ticket sales. They further noted the absence of data held by the ministry on the management and upkeep of those sites which have been entrusted to special commissioners: in particular the Domus Aurea (a large villa built by Nero) in Rome; Rome’s historic archaeological zone; and Pompeii. 

The report does, however, highlight some achievements, including the near-complete survey of archaeological sites in Italy and the creation of a “computerised archaeological map”. 

Altogether, the court of auditors concluded, the ministry of culture is completely disorganised, in part a result of what it called “the stressful reforms that have affected Mibac over the past five years”. 

The report says that newly appointed culture minister, Gian­carlo Galan, needs to make major changes to the whole decision-making and control processes within Mibac’s antiquities division. 

“The central system is losing contact with the periphery, with the result that it no longer receives any feedback concerning the actual execution of works, their state of progress, or the efficiency and efficacy of the costs incurred,” the report concludes.  

Author: Edek Osser | Source: The Art Newspaper [July 12, 2011]

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