Italy PM spokesman warns Treasury officials to find welfare funds or face sack

cnbc logo - Italy PM spokesman warns Treasury officials to find welfare funds or face sack

sack@ (Please note language in third paragraph)

MILAN, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Italy’s prime ministerial spokesman has warned that the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement will sack Treasury officials in a “mega-vendetta” if they fail to find the resources needed for welfare spending.

Spokesman Rocco Casalino’s comments, made in a leaked audio with an unidentified journalist, come as Italy’s populist government draws up its first budget amid rising tension over funding.

“If in the end they tell us ‘ah we couldn’t find the money’ then we’ll devote the whole of 2019 to getting rid of all these pieces of shit at the (Treasury),” Casalino said in the recording, in which he asks to be quoted as a parliamentary source.

“A mega-vendetta is ready,” he said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met senior ministers to try to resolve the impasse over the budget between the ruling parties and Economy Minister Giovanni Tria, an academic who does not belong to either of the ruling parties and is resisting their plans to boost spending.

The fiscal plan is expected to include a series of expenditure commitments including a minimum income for the poor, which 5-Star is championing.

Casalino, who has not commented directly on the recording, said Tria was not the problem, instead blaming the resistance of long-serving and influential officials at the Treasury.

In a statement on Saturday, 5-Star’s spokeswoman in parliament’s lower house, Mirella Liuzzi, said Casalino’s words reflected the views of everyone in the movement.

But cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti, asked about the comments at a conference in northern Italy, said it depended on whether the spokesman had the power to remove officials.

“I don’t think he does,” he said.

Leader of the opposition Partito Democratico Maurizio Martina said the spokesman’s words were unheard of. “If Conte has the minimum of institutional sense he will remove him immediately,” he said in a tweet.

The government has signaled it will seek leeway from the EU to increase the budget deficit in 2019 so it can spend on measures aimed at boosting economic growth.

Earlier on Saturday the head of the Bank of Italy said any increase in deficit spending that did not boost structural economic growth could put Italy’s debt on an unsustainable course. (Reporting by Stephen Jewkes and Giulio Piovaccari Editing by Helen Popper)

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