ROME Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International on Friday urged Italy to create an independent authority to fight graft, which costs taxpayers 60 billion euros ($78 billion) a year.
The recommendation goes further than an anti-corruption bill the technocrat government of Prime Minister Mario Monti wants to pass before a national election, likely to be held in April.
A report published earlier this year by Transparency International said 87 percent of Italians regarded corruption as one of the country's most serious problems and blamed political parties.
Italian parties' "contribution to the fight against corruption and the promotion of transparency is almost zero," the watchdog said in Friday's report.
Next week the Senate is expected to vote on an anti-corruption bill that would toughen the criminal code and exclude anyone convicted of crimes against the public administration from becoming a lawmaker.
The limited scope of the draft law fails to do much of what Transparency International recommended on Friday, including creating an authority, fostering a more independent media and simplifying regulations in the public administration.
Late on Thursday, the government approved emergency legislation to fight graft and cut spending by local governments, in particular by the regions, where spending has risen 75 percent in the last decade.
Monti introduced tax increases and pension cuts when he came to office in November to stave off a Greek-style debt crisis. The measures have hurt consumer spending and deepened Italy's year-long recession.
"After the unspeakable episodes that have happened, Italians are indignant that heavy sacrifices are asked of them while the world of politics seems exempt," Monti said in presenting the measures.
On Wednesday, the chief and four employees of a tax collection agency in northern Italy were arrested for allegedly pocketing 100 million euros ($130 million) of the money they had gathered.
In another scandal, a regional official allegedly spent more than a million euros in public funds on cars, a holiday and a lavish toga party in Rome.
A poll published by SWG on Friday illustrated Italians' disillusionment with its political class, suggesting that 46 percent of people were either undecided about who to vote for or did not plan to cast a ballot in the next election.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)