Boozing officials in hot water

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Rome -

A public housing agency in Sicily is under investigation after 81 of its 96 employees were found to skip work to go shopping or hang out at the bar instead, the police said on Monday.

Absentees at the office in the city of Messina asked their colleagues to clock them in and out every day, according to footage recorded on cameras set up by police to catch the rule-breakers.

If found guilty, the absentees risk up to five years in prison and would have to compensate the state for the salary they received while absconding.

Rosario Crocetta, the new governor of the debt-laden island, has said he will cut waste and crack down on an out-of-control public sector.

Last month he fired his 21-strong press office, which costs the regional budget 3.2 million euros ($4.1 million) a year.

Incomes for the press officers ranged from 4 000 to 6 000 euros a month after tax and the press office was larger than that of the national government. - Sapa-AFP

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