An Australian donation of almost $A4 million to help build a park and theatre in an Italian city hit by an earthquake in 2009 has yet to be used despite early assurances the project could be completed within a year.
The nine-year delay for the project at L'Aquila, the capital of Italy's Abruzzo region, has meant the funds remain in an Italian bank under the responsibility of a Melbourne charitable fund.
In 2009 then prime minister Kevin Rudd agreed to match dollar for dollar up to $1.5 million in Abruzzo-aid funds raised by the Italian-Australian community.
The Italian Media Corporation, made up of the newpapers Il Globo ( Melbourne)
and La Fiamma (Sydney) together with the radio network Rete Italia, ran a fundraising campaign.
That was boosted by a gala dinner in Melbourne attended by then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull who cited the Italian poet Dante.
The total sum raised was nearly $A4 million and it was destined for the development of an extensive park on L'Aquila's outskirts with several facilities including a theatre to seat 950 people.
At Melbourne's Abruzzo Club a video was shown of the project designed by Italian architect Mario Cucinella and it was stated it could be completed within six months.
The Italian government also gave 19 million euros for the project .
But Cucinella's project did not win the tender which instead went to the Modostudio architects of Rome.
The architectural competition took longer than anticipated and the result was only announced in 2013.
Tenders were called for the construction but the company which won with a 10 million euro bid later asked for a 50 per cent increase because of allegedly inadequate anti-seismic provisions.
L'Aquila City Council had to decide whether to negotiate with the construction company, pass the contract to the runner-up or call for tenders again. It chose negotiation.
The national anti-corruption authority is also examining the situation.
Italy's new government is reconsidering the financing of all public works and it could withdraw the 19 million euros put at the disposal of the park renovation project.
A spokesperson for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said the embassy in Rome had been in regular contact with the municipality of L'Aquila and most recently visited in November this year.
"We look forward to seeing the project supported by Australian funds ... realised," the spokesperson said.
Much of L'Aquila has yet to be rebuilt and many shops and businesses are yet to reopen.
Australian Associated Press