Italy pins hopes on Milan Expo after corruption, delays

Italy pins hopes on Milan Expo after corruption, delays

MILAN - Reuters
Italy pins hopes on Milan Expo after corruption, delays

The 37-meter "The Tree of Life" and the Italian pavilion (L) are seen at the Expo 2015 work site near Milan April 3, 2015. REUTERS Photo

Three weeks before the Milan Expo opens on May 1, the site of the showpiece event is still a mass of trucks raising dust and workers in hard hats racing to finish building after delays, graft and cost overruns. 

Italy has had four different governments in the seven years since Milan was chosen to follow the 2010 Shanghai Expo and has undergone its most severe economic crisis since World War Two. 

But 40-year-old Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is counting on the event to reinforce fragile signs of recovery and help his drive to put a more modern face on Italy after the years of recession. 

Officials are counting on some 20 million visitors to the six month-long exhibition of products and technologies from around the world. They hope it will bring in 10 billion euros ($10.75 billion), half of it from foreign visitors. 

Some 9 million tickets have already been sold, a third of them outside Italy, for an event seeking to broaden its appeal with interactive exhibits such as a supermarket of the future, cultural events and shows at an arena and an artificial lake. 

“Expo will be the litmus test for the great ambitions which Italy has,” Renzi said in a speech in Milan last month to promote the event. “With the Expo, we’ll be able to see what Italy will be in the coming years.”
Intended as a celebration of Milan’s openness to the world and an exploration of new approaches to sustainable food, the event has so far stood out for the chronic corruption and waste that have blighted public works projects in Italy for decades. 

Several top officials, including the Expo’s former public procurement manager, were arrested last year and the whole event was placed under the oversight of the national anti-bribery authority in a bid to ensure transparency. 

The Italian pavilion, a centrepiece of the event, was originally expected to cost 63 million euros ($67.69 million) but will end up costing 92 million and may not be completed in time. A number of transport projects planned to accompany Expo will also not be ready. 

A defendant who opened fire in a Milan court last week, killing three people including a judge, also underlined the potential security problems around a major event of this size. 

Buffeted by the scandals and facing disputes with architects and building contractors, Expo Commissioner Giuseppe Sala says construction work at the 110-hectare (272 acre) greenfield site on the outskirts of Milan will be essentially complete by opening day. 

“I am realistically confident about the work we’re doing but I am surprised and sometimes a bit disconcerted by the climate which has developed,” he told reporters in Milan earlier this month, denying press reports that organizers would be forced to hide embarrassing gaps with camouflage panels. 

“When has it ever been the case for a project like an Expo or Olympic Games, that all the building work has been finished 30 days before the opening?” he said. “If we end up looking bad, the fault will be mine. The government and local partners have done everything they should.”