Palermo Renaissance Part 2: Reforming City Hall, 1993-2000

In 1993, Palermo, Italy, mayor Leoluca Orlando launched an ambitious strategy to reclaim a city from Mafia-related corruption and violence. To move projects forward, however, he had to overcome several obstacles. Nepotism and patronage had created a mismatch between the skills available and the talents required to run the city effectively. Municipal offices lacked adequate records, and information retrieval was difficult and time-consuming. City finances were in shambles. And citizens did not trust the government to get things done and deliver services. Using a landslide electoral victory as an opportunity for major institutional change, Orlando and his cabinet members worked with community leaders to develop a “culture of legality” by cutting the Mafia out of government transactions and transitioning the city from norms of secrecy and bribery to norms of transparency and respect for rules. The administration improved records management, built administrative capacity in key departments, improved budget processes and expanded revenues, increased efficiency and tackled corruption, and started to rebuild the social contract between government and citizens. Those reforms earned Palermo multiple awards, as well as a strong first-time rating (Aa3) from ratings company Moody’s Investors Service. Although some gains slipped after Orlando left office in 2000, his reforms weakened the Mafia’s hold over government. This case study recounts Orlando’s reform efforts at city hall from 1993 to 2000.
Rushda Majeed and Laura Bacon drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Palermo, Italy, in March 2012. Aldo Civico, assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Rutgers University and cofounder of the International Institute for Peace, provided initial ideas and guidance. Roberto Pitea, Valentina Burcheri, and Brian Reilly provided research assistance. Case published September 2012.
Two companion case studies address simultaneous reform efforts in Palermo from 1993 to 2000. “Palermo Renaissance Part 1: Rebuilding Civic Identity and Reclaiming a City From the Mafia” focuses on the restoration of public spaces, arts and culture, tourism, and schools. “Palermo Renaissance Part 3: Strengthening Municipal Services” details efforts to improve service delivery, management, hiring, and bidding processes in Palermo’s water, gas, transportation, and waste management services.
Leoluca Orlando
participatory budgeting
one-stop shop
business licensing
public service exam
Cosa Nostra
Focus Area(s)
City Management
Building a Reform Team and Staff
Containing Patronage Pressures
Countering Criminal Economies
Getting the News Out/Managing Expectations
Critical Tasks
Building citizen support
Making services accessible
Municipal centers of government
Overcoming corruption
Public service delivery
Revenue generation
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Rushda Majeed and Laura Bacon