Sicily, protection threatened: mayors could replace superintendents in issuing opinions

A conference was held in Palermo where they took stock of the threats to protection facing Sicily's archaeological parks, where mayors sit on scientific committees and where first citizens might even issue opinions that are the responsibility of superintendents.

Held on June 21 in Palermo, at the Cantieri Culturali alla Zisa, the conference On the Future of Archaeological Parks: No to politicians instead of technicians, promoted by art historian and journalist Silvia Mazza, who has been working on archaeological parks for years and recently signed an investigation in the specialist journal “Windows on Art” to denounce how, in Sicily, the autonomy of technicians is threatened by political interference, since the current regional government of the Sicily Region even wants to put in the hands of mayors an opinion that only the Superintendencies can issue.

The intermingling of politics and administration, put in place with the appointment on May 20 by the Assessore dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana Alberto Samonà of the first two technical-scientific committees, very little technical and much more politically driven, of the Himera and Tindari Archaeological Parks, was stigmatized during the conference for its unconstitutional profile, as contrary to Article 97: “the principles of good performance and impartiality of the administration, recalled by the Charter,” Mazza said, “can only be guaranteed by the separation between the function of political guidance and administrative management activities.” Principles affirmed from the Bassanini Law onward, up to the so-called Madia Reform of 2017, implemented by the Grasso-Armao regional “unbureaucratization” law. And instead of avoiding the confusion of roles, in the Committees appointed a month ago there are 9 mayors, local administrators and therefore politicians, who sit alongside 3 technicians in the Himera Park and in the Tindari Park 5 always alongside 3 technicians. “The preponderance of advisors of a political nature over technicians and subject matter experts within a technical-scientific committee is in itself a contradiction in terms,” pointed out Alessandro Garrisi, president of ANA, the National Association of Archaeologists, which has also always had a collaborative spirit with the Department. “What remains of an ’archaeological park’ if the decision-makers are a technical-scientific committee in which politicians decide?” he wondered. “It is one of the many nefarious outcomes of a failure to foresee the gradual decline of expertise in cultural heritage and the rarefied relationship with academic and territorial research institutions,” said Ignazio Buttitta, Full Professor of History of Popular Traditions at the University of Palermo, instead.

It emerged from the conference that the most worrying aspect is that these committees, thus composed, can express a “technical” opinion that is not advisory, but even binding, in place of the Superintendencies. “The state law, 110/2014, from which descends Article 9 bis of the Code of Cultural Heritage (Legislative Decree 42/2004’), speaks clearly, recognizes this pronouncement exclusively to those who have the necessary scientific expertise,” says Andrea Camilli, President of Assotecnici. “In Sicily, on the other hand, there is leverage on Regional Law 20 of 2000, which regulates the sector,” Mazza explained, “with a clause confirmed in the Regulations of the parks that are an integral part of the institutive decrees, but completely at odds with the Code of Cultural Heritage, which the Constitutional Court has qualified ’as a norm of great economic-social reform that even Regions with a special statute must observe’ (ruling 172/2018). While the repealed 1999 Consolidated Act is still cited in Law 20, these regulations state precisely that ’for interventions proposed by the Park Director, to be carried out within the park,’ the opinion expressed by the Committee ’replaces the authorization to be rendered pursuant to Legislative Decree 42/2004.’”

There will therefore be conflicts of interest “whenever restrictive measures are to be taken in the territories they administer,” Mazza notes. “We would arrive at the paradox whereby the mayor of a municipality in the case of the imposition of an archaeological constraint, superordinate to the General Regulatory Plan, has to adapt the Prg to the constraint and, on the contrary, finds himself with decision-making power, able to affect the choices that affect the state property of a Park.” In short, mayors on the one hand spokespersons for the interests of the territories they administer and on the other called upon to express opinions on the same. Though not all of them: having given birth to extra-large parks has achieved the unfortunate result of having created mayors, municipalities, and thus A-list citizens, who participate in park decisions, and B-list others, who have no voice in the matter. Thirteen parks, in addition to the Valley of the Temples, the entire regional territory with all the provinces involved. A mixture, that between politics and administration, which had also been stigmatized by the late Councilor Sebastiano Tusa, whose statements Mazza read at another meeting on parks that she herself had promoted, in 2018, at the Orsi Museum in Syracuse: “Politics, the Greeks teach us, is the highest form of management of public affairs. However, politics, when it comes to scientific-technical choices, must take a step back,” the distinguished archaeologist had said at the time. Gianfranco Zanna, Legambiente president, also stressed that “what has been done is not what Tusa would have done, he would never have wanted the forced aggregations made in 2019 of parks that were conceived distinct and for which we find ourselves this team of mayors within a single park.”

Words, those of Tusa, and no less than two bills under his signature that were supposed to remedy regulatory deficiencies and contradictions. Bills disregarded with today’s results. “I recall,” said Zanna, president of Legambiente, again, “that Law 20 of 2000, in part two, the one that covers all the other parks except the Valley of the Temples, is nothing more than the transposition of Art. 107 of Regional Law No. 25/1993, which contained a discipline on the establishment of a system of archaeological parks, summary, however, which explains the contradictions. After twenty-one years, it is clear that the law needed to be updated before applying it.”

But Tusa was not the only one in this government who was aware that the parks law needed to be corrected and supplemented before applying it. So was Economy Councillor Gaetano Armao, who wrote this in an article in “Aedono. Online magazine of arts and law” in 2020. And not only was Armao aware of this. In April 2017, a few months before the regional elections that would later also lead him to the vice-presidency of the Region, on “” he too rebuked the mingling of politics and administration in a body that was also mixed, the Regional Council of Cultural Heritage reconstituted by then-President Crocetta. So one would wonder if Professor Armao, a professor of European administrative law and public accounting, at the University of Palermo in April 2017 has nothing to say to the current Vice President and Councilor Armao.

So what did they do, first President Musumeci, by establishing the parks (and Tusa in the LDs had provided correctives for the establishment process as well) and then Samonà, by appointing the committees? Instead of correcting and supplementing it, they went to apply as is a 21-year-old law, not updated to the above legislation. That is, without asking whether the interference of these politically driven committees in superintendency functions is not undue, and whether the same political interference in the composition of technical bodies is not undue. All the flaws on the regulatory level were highlighted by Sergio Foà, Full Professor of Administrative Law, University of Turin.

“Despite a reservation of competences recognized to the Superintendence, the application of the same norm (Law 20/2000, ed.) allows an ’opinion’ of the Committee to substitute the authorization measure of the Superintendence,” and, the jurist confirms, “the same ’derogation’ appears of dubious constitutional legitimacy, as it is in contrast with the above-mentioned Code.” Again on the committees: “from the competencies attributed to the body and its composition, a mixed legal nature is inferred, given that technical tasks are added to administrative tasks, where the political component, expressed by the Mayors, concurs to express an opinion that is not merely advisory, but binding, thus substantially coinciding with the final measure.” And on the plethoricity of the committees: “As bodies with administrative tasks, the legal provisions on the reduction of members (3 and for special needs 5) apply to them,” and “the number of members of the Committee, moreover not homogeneous in the different Parks, therefore seems to violate this limit, since the body under consideration has (also) administrative tasks.” In reference to the introduction of free of charge of the Committee member’s position, for which the regional law instead provides for economic treatment: on this point, “the institutive decrees, which are administrative acts, have disapplied the regional law, the correct course would therefore have been the prior amendment of the regional law.” While having provided for the reimbursement of expenses from the budget of the parks in which financial autonomy is not effective “it seems obvious that in the absence of treasury and cash service of the Park Authority, the same cannot directly provide for the reimbursement of travel expenses provided to the beneficiary members.” But will the opinions to be expressed by these committees be valid in the absence of a component? just the appointment of the “expert” that should have jointly expressed the mayors, incredibly, it was postponed to a future decree. For Foà, “even though there are the regionally appointed experts, the presence and expression of the position of the expert appointed by the Mayors, called to evaluate the technical profiles of the interventions to be granted, of interest to the municipalities, also seems essential. The provision of the law, moreover, does not seem to allow for deliberations taken without the body having been installed in its entirety: thus, in the event that the expert expressed by the Mayors is lacking, the body will not be legitimately constituted and any deliberations taken in that composition will be vitiated for violation of the law.”

Violations of the law, flawed decrees, protection mortgaged, mayors as superintendents, the invitation to the government arising from the Conference is, therefore, to reconsider and stop immediately while there is still time! “Let it listen for once to the voice of the technicians,” Mazza concluded, "who are not agents with a license to curb the economic development of a region or a country, but only those who can also and precisely provide politicians with the technical tools for sustainable progress for our cultural heritage.

Councillor Samonà was invited to the conference but did not attend as he let it be known that he has “a busy agenda on eastern Sicily.” The various contributions will be delivered to a Dossier that will be deposited in the Fifth Commission on Culture, Training and Labor of the Sicilian Regional Assembly, and to which Salvatore Settis, Academician of the Lincei, and Sergio Rinaldi Tufi, former Full Professor of Archaeology of the Roman Provinces, University of Siena and Trieste, have also joined.

“While my non-Italian students, with a few exceptions, hold important positions in universities, research centers, state or local archaeological protection bodies or have become professionals, in Italy the proportion is reversed, the vast majority do anything but, and at the top, at the sad top, the record of intellectual unemployment is for my Sicilian former students,” says Philippe Pergola, Professor and Dean of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology. Andrea Incorvaia, of Mi Riconosci? I’m a cultural heritage professional: “the inclusion of non-professionals, such as mayors, in the parks’ technical-scientific committees risks cutting even further into the legs of a category that has never been so mistreated, that of sector workers, in an Island with a decidedly ’old’ and in some ways ’unprofessionalized’ workforce.” Also on the professionalism front, “the blending of archaeology and landscape architecture is indispensable for understanding history in the present,” according to Lucia Pierro, Architect, co-founder of AutonomeForme, Holcim winner, GreenGooddesign. “A very bad test that descends from the full powers that the Region has in the matter,” for Angelina De Laurenzi, National Committee for the Withdrawal of Any Differentiated Autonomy. On the other hand, engineer Marcello Conigliaro, Pro-Rector for Research at the Jean Monnet Department of European Studies, showed some past good practices, of the technological applications “thanks to which Sicilian parks were pioneers in Italy.” Of the tangible and intangible heritage applied to the case of archaeological parks spoke Rosario Perricone, Secretary General SIMBDEA, Italian Society for Museography and DemoEtnoAntropological Heritage. “ICOM, (International Council of Museums, ed.), which in a spirit of collaboration has a few months ago signed a memorandum of understanding with the Councillor,” informs regional coordinator Francesco Mannino, hopes “increasingly the involvement of professionals in the field” and goes beyond the issue of mayors hoping that the opinion of “professional associations will also be in an advisory capacity” and announces “an imminent full application of the National Museum System,” which finally sees Sicily join, last among the Regions. Finally, Gioacchino Francesco La Torre, Full Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Messina, stigmatized “the lack of coherence in the action of the Public Administration, which on the one hand offers and promotes seductive training paths, for profiles whose need is also felt, but which then, to the trained interdicts access to those roles.”

Pictured: the Greek theater of Tindari. Photo by Chris Lloyd.

Sicily, protection threatened: mayors could replace superintendents in issuing opinions
Sicily, protection threatened: mayors could replace superintendents in issuing opinions

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