One year ago – it was Monday 4 January – the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) began its activities in via Contarini, in front of the Farnesina building in Rome. Thus, the reform desired by Parliament with law 125 was being implemented, approved practically unanimously in August 2014, which replaced the previous one from 1987 and gave the Agency ample autonomy despite the close link with the redefined Ministry of “foreign affairs and international cooperation”.
Twelve months are more than enough to take stock and outline an assessment of what has been achieved so far. We therefore count on the Agency soon producing its first report and making it the subject of discussion and verification, also in order to collect useful contributions for the progressive improvement and effective implementation of what was desired by the legislator and the many subjects involved.
Good or bad, much has undoubtedly been done: legislative and regulatory compliance, new organizational structure, new managers, formalization of foreign offices, procedures for granting grants, guidelines, calls for tenders and project financing, management and reporting procedures, financial planning by instruments and by country, disbursement of loans, etc. Much more could have been done if the public employment law hadn’t prevented the hiring of the sixty technicians needed to complete the structure and the training of general managers.
Satisfied then? While I appreciate the work done and the professionalism and dedication shown by some who have continued to give their best despite the difficulties, in my opinion there is nothing to be satisfied with, at least for now. The new Development Cooperation Agency still seems far from corresponding to that improvement and propulsive novelty compared to past years that the legislator has thought and wanted with the new law.
If in the first year, the undoubtedly more difficult one, it was a duty to be patient, support, support even when not convinced of the choices that were being made, with the second year it will instead be a duty to combine public appreciation with doubts and criticisms whenever they are considered obvious and necessary. Always in a constructive way, such as for example the representations of the NGOs, as a unit, have demonstrated their know-how over the years; but also in a convinced and decisive way. No one wants a weak Agency, which does not express in the best possible way and with all its strength and ideal drive the great task that the law has entrusted to it. To achieve this, a leap in quality, a clear vision and a stronger and more constant commitment seem necessary.
The obstacle of sixty new hires has been overcome, indispensable for the full functioning of the Agency as envisaged by law 125 but prevented by rigorous implementation of the rules on public employment. It took almost a year to make a self-evident problem clear to politicians and to be able to insert an amendment into the Budget Law. How much time wasted, one might say.
Despite being one of the Agency’s priorities, the urgency of perfecting the general management levels, those of the two deputy directors, does not seem to have been adequately addressed. The focus was on the deputy director in charge of the legal-administrative area, postponing the appointment of the deputy director for the technical area until the completion of the workforce. In this way, even the Steering Committee of the AICS which must express the collective opinion on almost all of its actions finds itself in a kind of devitalizing limbo. How is it conceivable that decisions relating to the technical staff, the planning of activities, the financing proposals, the estimated budget and its distribution, the regulations, the very structuring and organization of the Agency and the foreign offices can be taken?
The director of the Agency in turn has his hands tied by article 19 of Legislative Decree 165/2001: this is what everyone is repeating. In fact, it establishes that the number of general managers must be proportional to the staffing endowment. Since this is still incomplete, the proportionality attainable at the moment is that of a single general manager and the option was for the juridical-administrative area. However, the legal consultants of AICS have to ask why sometimes the laws are meticulously interpreted starting from the aims that the legislator set for himself and evaluating the single paragraphs according to their achievement and why other times we stick, instead, only to the letter, ignoring the ameliorative and decisive will of the legislator, until you risk making it fail? It is precisely in the face of this second case that we seem to find ourselves. Given the stakes, it is worthwhile for the Agency to do everything possible to propose, to demand, a way out.
Law 125 establishes the staffing of the Agency which, when fully operational, will have 200 people in Italy and 100 in offices abroad, with two managerial structures at a general level (deputy directorates) and others at a non-general level. Faced with a plan of new recruitments, defined in terms of time and quantity and which implies the presence of two general managers for the purpose of completing the workforce according to what is established by law, the interpretation that it is first necessary to complete the non-general managerial and technical personnel, turning it upside down to start instead – as any intelligent organization would impose – from the head, from the choice of the general manager who will have to preside, govern and qualify this completion process? What changes so overwhelming at the conclusion of the process, also from a regulatory point of view? Wouldn’t this be the best way to respond to the will of the legislator who has made the quality of processes and choices the banner of legislative reform?
This is no small point. Nor can it be reduced to a technical question. An Agency based on the juridical-administrative dimension, as it appears in part today, would really be of interest to few.