A gleaming new bridge in Genoa built after the deadly collapse of a viaduct opened Tuesday, but critics say not enough has been done since the 2018 disaster to overhaul Italy’s crumbling infrastructure.

The Morandi’s speedy demolition and replacement has been hailed by many as an example of what Italy could be, should it scrap its infamous red tape.

The centre-left coalition government promised during the coronavirus pandemic this year to use major infrastructure projects to reboot the battered economy, as Italy slid towards its worst recession since World War II. It said it would radically simplify bureaucracy to unblock some 62 billion euros of construction work, and promoted the “Genoa model”: a code-word for work done efficiently and quickly under the watch of a special commissioner.

The country has at least 50 large infrastructure projects that are stalled, from a high-speed train in Sicily to the widening of a motorway in Tuscany, Italy’s construction lobby ANCE said. Projects stutter to a halt or fail to get off the ground due to lengthy legal challenges to tenders, companies going bankrupt, political point scoring or local council spats, including one in Liguria over which town should host the station on a new train line. The funds are there: according to the Cresme research institute, there were some 200 billion euros earmarked for the sector at the end of 2019, ranging from government and EU funds to private contributions.

Last month the government approved a “simplification decree” — touted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte as “the mother of all reforms”. But detractors said it failed to make serious inroads into red tape, and could even prove damaging.

Infrastructure executive Angelica Donati said it takes twice as long in Italy to carry out a large-scale infrastructure project than in the rest of Europe, so speeding up the process and improving efficiency and transparency would be much welcomed. But she warned that the new decree crushed competition, by effectively excluding the small and medium enterprises that make up the backbone of Italy from tenders for projects worth over 5.3 million euros. For the next two years, the public administration can rule such projects be treated as an emergency “because of the COVID-related crisis… which would exclude them from all public tender regulations, apart from anti-mafia ones”, she told AFP.

A small number of specific companies can be invited to participate individually in the tender — penalising those who would have made joint venture bids, or are simply excluded.

“Using the commissioner structure and throwing out the rule book, saying you have full power to do whatever you want, is not the right way to ensure transparency and protect competition,” Donati said. “The Genoa model is a very bad idea, it’s very dangerous,” and risks turning Italy into “the Wild West”.

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