to updateTwo experts from the government of Public Works Minister Petra de Sater (Green), who negotiated the management contract with the postal company bpost, have been on bpost’s payroll for two years. This is what “De Tijd” writes today. The minister defends himself, “I dare to put my hand in the fire so as not to conflict of interests.” Opposition parties N-VA and Vlaams Belang, as well as coalition partner MR, are asking for an explanation. Rep. Michael Freilich (N-VA) is asking the European Commission for an “in-depth investigation.”
KV, IBB and YAKD
Belga, Radio 1, De Find, Special Coverage
The staff was seconded to its cabinet at Minister De Sutter’s request in the fall, according to The Exchange. In the cabinet, they were responsible for the day-to-day communications and negotiations between the government and the bpost. “They have remained on the bpost payroll, which raises questions about the interests of those they serve,” notes De Tijd.
Cabinet spokesman De Sutter confirmed to the newspaper that the employees, who have been working full-time for nearly three years at Cabinet, are still getting paid by the Postal Service. According to information available to the newspaper, employees would have kept the bpost payroll even at the “express request” of De Sutter’s cabinet.
“It is usual for people to be seconded to the cabinet. According to Die Teijd, it is very unusual for them to continue being paid by a private company, with which the government has to negotiate.” According to political scientist Carl DeVos (UGent), it is not really uncommon for employees to be seconded to the Cabinet, but remain on the payroll. “Then the risk of conflict of interest is greater.”
De Sutter’s spokesperson confirms in ‘De Tijd’ that at the beginning of 2021 Parliament was informed that the two experts had been seconded to the Cabinet. He did not mention that they remained on the bpost payroll. “In order to avoid all conflicts of interest, they will be on the Cabinet’s payroll from June,” De Tejde quoted de Sutter’s government. It further denies that paying government employees via bpost created a conflict of interest.
De Satter also reiterated this on Radio 1’s De Ochtend: “I dare put my hand in the fire so that there is no conflict of interest.” The minister admits that “these are practices from the past”, but now he is “correcting” this. “De Tijd is publishing this now, but we actually decided three months ago to stop this.” During the interview, De Sutter could neither confirm nor deny that the two experts remained on bpost’s payroll “at her express request.” “I have to investigate that.”
bpost also responds to the question via a statement. Earlier this year, the management established that no compensation was provided in the loan agreement, it was said, after which the management themselves proposed to settle the matter. “Management found earlier this year that no compensation was expected in the secondment agreements for bpost employees. Management then proposed to the Cabinet to resolve the situation, which was immediately accepted. The employees will remain seconded and the Cabinet will refund their wages to the Post from June 1.
The reaction of the opposition party Vlaams Belang was harsh. “With this, the Minister simply acknowledges that the emergence of a conflict of interest was at least tolerated and even encouraged,” MP Nathalie DeWolfe said. This raises serious questions about their independence and their ability to do their job properly. “
Vlaams Belang wants to put the minister to the test in this matter and therefore asks for a commission of inquiry into fraud in government concessions and into possible conflicts of interest in de Sutter’s cabinet. “It’s time to get to the bottom of all the stink about bpost,” says Dewulf. Vlaams Belang also believes that external audit should examine the relationship between the cabinet and bpost.
“De Sutter is making a huge mistake with this,” says Michael Freilich (N-VA). According to him, it is missing a “fundamental problem” by wanting to put these people on “their” payroll: “Bpost cannot be both a public and independent publicly listed company”. According to the N-VA member, it must now be investigated whether there is a conflict of interest. He requests an emergency session with De Sutter in Parliament, which is in recess this week.
He also sent Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, a letter calling for an investigation. Freilich reports to our editors. “I urge you to conduct a thorough investigation into market distorting practices. The situation calls for swift and decisive action,” the document states.
“Conflict of interest is ingrained in our political system,” tweeted MP Maria Windvogel of the opposition PVDA party. Stop the revolving door policy between companies and ministries. shameless.”
Les Engagés, the smaller French-speaking opposition party, announced that it would question the government over the file. “This is very dangerous,” says parliamentary group leader Catherine Funk.
The master wants an explanation from the minister, and Open Vld insists on privatization
Calitie’s partner MR reacts indignantly and demands an explanation. “There needs to be total clarity on bpost,” Chairman MR Bouchez said on Twitter. For the French-speaking liberals, “too much unacceptable information” appeared. “It proves once again that the government is a bad contributor!”
On the other hand, Open VLD again calls for the complete privatization of the public company. “The violations are symptomatic of the problem that the government is wearing too many hats. (…) Our country is not only the main contributor and customer of bpost, but it also sets the rules and supervises the same company. This creates a schizophrenia that has become unworkable and unsustainable says MP Marianne Fairhart. She argues in favor of phasing out the government interest in bpost. The Belgian state owns 51 percent of the shares of the postal company.
From illegal agreements to shady government contracts
The Postal Service has been at the center of the storm for a while now. For example, there may be illegal agreements when winning a newspaper begging franchise. Last week, a private audit also revealed that bpost was overcharging the government for other contracts. So the federal government will open an investigation on all missions. “Every overpaid euro must be returned,” said Minister de Sutter.
More than Bpost may have been paid up to €50 million in tax money each year (+)
analysis. The same question sounds as in the discussion about high pensions for deputies: who knows what? And above all: who should have known what? (+)
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