top of page
Search

MINISTER FRANK VANDENBROUCKE REFUSES TO RESPECT OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT AND CONSTITUTION

The newspaper 'Het Laatste Nieuws' has been trying for two years to get access to mails that health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) sent to GEMS president Erika Vlieghe and corona commissioner Pedro Facon during the corona crisis. They formed the triumvirate during the covida crisis and had the power to enforce far-reaching decisions. That this involved diverting democracy, ignoring privacy and violating the principle of equality was not to be questioned. The end justified the means. The question is whether the end was so sacred. The mail traffic between these three tenors could take away the criticism of wappies and other silly conspiracy theorists, black and white. But there is apparently a problem.

HLN invoked the Public Access Act (WOB) to get access. But Minister Vandenbroucke disagrees. Frank is not known as a team player, but as a man of the big right who does not tolerate contradiction. Doch, there seems to be much more going on in this one.


It would take - according to Vandenbroucke - too much effort to properly disclose thousands of emails. The minister - who was put in his chair not by the people but by Conner Rousseau - therefore twice turned down a request for release.

The Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (CTB) proved him wrong in October. The commission did not find the minister's arguments pertinent enough. However, that opinion is not binding and so Vandenbroucke was allowed to ignore it. Which he then effectively did in November.

What followed defies any imagination, or rather feeds the imagination. We quote 'Het Laatste Nieuws': "HLN and publisher DPG Media went to the Council of State. There, an auditor looked into the matter and he too ruled that the minister's arguments did not stand up. He advised the Council of State in March to annul Vandenbroucke's decision. However, the minister did not wait for a ruling. He withdrew his old decision in early June and immediately issued a new refusal. This time with more substantiation. This way, HLN is forced to appeal. That could extend the proceedings by a year to two years."


And there is more. Because Vandenbroucke would not only block HLN's request legally, but also politically. Indeed, a new law is in the pipeline that would give more power to the CTB, the appeals commission that ruled against Vandenbroucke in the autumn. An amendment to the law would ensure that an advice from the appeals commission would henceforth be binding. Two guesses who is trying to stop this law.

"More power for the appeals commission did not meet with much opposition anywhere except from Vandenbroucke," Claude Archer, of NGO Transparencia told HLN. "The amendment could still play tricks on him this legislature. It could give HLN quicker access to his emails. The appeals committee previously ruled against the minister, but he could ignore that. If the commission is given more power, that would no longer be possible. The minister benefits personally from his opposition to the amendment and is therefore in a conflict of interest."


Yet, Frank does not think there is a conflict of interest. While discussing the bill, he did inadvertently forget to mention the ongoing proceedings. Unusual for someone smarter than everyone else. Well, forgotten, Frank feels he didn't even have to. "Any change in the way the appeals committee works would have no impact on ongoing legal proceedings. So I don't see any conflict of interest." According to Archer, the minister cannot judge that for himself. "He should have given his colleagues in government a chance to judge, but they knew nothing about it," he said.

Next Wednesday, the opposition and the other majority parties will meet to give final approval to the new law - without an amendment on the appeals committee. The question is whether - following the 'Het Laatste Nieuws' article - they will see a conflict of interest later anyway.


Frank Vandenbroucke is taking all possible steps not to release the emails he exchanged.


Meanwhile, the government body Transparencia ( the Belgian watchdog that monitors the transparency of administrations ) has filed a complaint against Vandenbroucke with the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau.


1. The applicable legislation :


Since 11 April 1994, Belgium has had the Open Government Act. This law applies, among other things, to all, federal administrations.

According to article 4 of this law, every citizen has the right to consult any administrative document of a federal administrative authority and to receive a copy of the document according to the conditions stipulated in this law. He may also consult any administrative document on the spot, receive an explanation thereof and receive a copy thereof. This also applies to documents that have already been filed. For documents of a personal nature, the applicant is required to declare an interest.


Article 6 provides for exceptions to these transparency rules. A federal or non-federal administrative authority may refuse the request for inspection, explanation or communication of an administrative document when it has determined that the interest in publicity does not outweigh the protection of the security of the population; the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, Belgium's federal international relations; public order, security or defense of the country; the investigation or prosecution of criminal offenses; a federal economic or financial interest, currency or public credit; the confidential nature, by its very nature, of business and manufacturing information communicated to the administration; the secrecy of the identity of the person who has confidentially communicated the document or information to the administrative authority for the purpose of reporting a criminal or punishable offense and also, if the requested document impinges on privacy, unless the person concerned consents to an obligation of secrecy established by law; to the secrecy of the deliberations of the federal government and to interests concerning the classification of security clearances, security certificates and security opinions.

Furthermore, a federal administrative authority may reject a request for inspection, explanation or communication in copy of an administrative document to the extent that the request :

1° concerns a governing document whose disclosure, for reason that the document is unfinished or incomplete, may give rise to misunderstanding;

2° concerns an opinion or an opinion freely and confidentially communicated to the authority;

3° is manifestly unreasonable;

4° is manifestly too vaguely formulated.

The federal administrative authority that cannot immediately respond to a request for publicity or rejects it shall notify the applicant of the reasons for the postponement or rejection within a period of 30 days after receipt of the request. In case of postponement, the time limit may never be extended by more than 15 days. In the absence of notification within the prescribed period, the application shall be deemed rejected.


To ensure compliance with the Public Administration Act, Article 8 has established a Commission on Access to Administrative Documents, to which any citizen and any agency can go if the federal administration refuses voluntary cooperation. This Commission tries to fulfill its duties in good conscience but in practice encounters the same refusals as citizens. The Commission also does not obtain the documents it has requested.

At present, it has no power to impose sanctions. This is being worked on. New legislation is being drafted that will make it possible to impose sanctions (legislation that Vandenbroucke is trying to block with all his might, by the way).


In this link you will find all relevant legislation.


Besides the open government act, there is the Constitution.

Article 32 of the Constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to consult any administrative document and to obtain a copy of it, except in the cases and under the conditions determined by the law, the decree or the rule referred to in Article 134 ( which relates to the allocation of powers to certain bodies).


Not unimportant to understand the whole issue properly is also the role of the King.

Under Article 36 of the Constitution, federal legislative power is exercised jointly by the King, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In accordance with Article 96, the King appoints and dismisses his ministers.

The federal government can also offer its own resignation to the King when the House of Representatives, by an absolute majority of its members, adopts a no-confidence motion that nominates a successor to the Prime Minister at once, within three days of the rejection of a confidence motion.


The King has, under the Constitution, a guardian function. He must monitor the ministers he appoints, call them to order if they overstep the mark and, if necessary, dismiss them if they do not respect the laws or otherwise bring shame on the King. In practice, however, this does not happen, regardless of the seriousness of the offenses committed by his ministers. Belgium has already experienced many scandals in this area in which the King has remained completely inert.

There is de facto only one exception to this and that is the unique time King Baudouin refused to sign the abortion law. Politics stood on its head and made it clear to the King that he only has a symbolic function and should not interfere with the legislation under which he has to sign.


2. What is going on here?

All emails that Minister Vandenbroucke has exchanged with third parties from his office fall under the law on openness of government regardless of which email address he has used for this purpose ( Frank also uses his private email address and the email address of the university to which he is - still - affiliated.

Vandenbroucke is thus violating the Constitution and the law on open government.

While the EU and its member states legislate more and more to gain absolute control over emails, instant messages, social media posts of citizens, Vandenbroucke flouts all laws.

The fact that he has refused to release his email traffic for two years now is a clear sign that those emails stipulate certain things that cannot ask for the light of day. His persistent refusal is all the more remarkable given that Vandenbroucke has undoubtedly deleted all delicate emails from his computers, servers, etc., since the first request...

Those emails can of course be recovered (' as was the case with Hillary Clinton who also corresponded ex officio from a private email address ) but that requires a criminal investigation and at least a concrete suspicion of fraud and corruption.

Prime Minister De Croo will not take his minister to task because he is sick in the same bed. And the King? Who is on holiday abroad and enjoying a cocktail while waiting for the storm to subside. She always does. In the UK, too, citizens hear nothing more about the lock-down files. Hanconck has not been arrested. He still walks free and continues to spread fear.


As a citizen, do you want to play an active role in unmasking Vandenbroucke or any other minister, MP or federal government ? You can.

Send an e-mail to Frank Vandenbroucke and demand concerning in his e-mail traffic or any other government document you deem useful.

In this link you will find all his details including his email address :

If he refuses, you can file a complaint at the CTB :

Committee on Access to Board Documents

For the attention of the President of the Commission

Brussels Regional Public Service

Cell Chancellery

Place Saint Lazarus 2, 1035 Brussels

Tel: +32 (0)2 800 35 73

E-mail: ctb@gob.brussels


Other relevant links :





458 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page