mercredi 14 juin 2017

Scandal Drove Brussels’s Mayor From Office. Now He’s Nowhere to Be Seen.


By MILAN SCHREUER 
NYT

Yvan Mayeur, the mayor of Brussels, in 2016. He offered his resignation after an audit found that he had been paid about $40,000 over two years to attend board meetings of an agency that helps the homeless, Brussels Samusocial, even though there was no evidence such meetings took place. 


CreditAurore Belot/Belga, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BRUSSELS — The former mayor of Brussels has vanished.
On Thursday night, the mayor, Yvan Mayeur, offered his resignation at a tumultuous City Council meeting, hours after a government-ordered audit found that he had been paid 36,000 euros (about $40,000) over two years to attend board meetings of an agency that helps the homeless, even though there was no evidence such meetings took place.
Since then, Mr. Mayeur has been out of view. On Friday, Belgian journalists reported that he was meeting with colleagues about his political future in an undisclosed location. On Monday, hundreds of residents held a sit-in on the Grand Place in Brussels to demand that Mr. Mayeur address the city about its future. Tuesday came and went without any evident public statement by Mr. Mayeur, 57, who had been in power since 2013.
The bizarre resignation is only the latest of several corruption scandals that have ensnared politicians and sowed doubt about the health of democracy in Belgium, a country where power is divided along regional and linguistic lines, and across multiple layers of government: federal, regional, communal, provincial and local. The country famously went 541 days without a functioning government after a June 2010 election in which no party gained dominance.
The complexity of governing in Belgium — which some critics have called the world’s wealthiest failed state — may create a welcoming environment for corruption. Even Mr. Mayeur’s job is hard to explain: He was mayor of the City of Brussels, which has a population of 178,552 and is one of the 19 municipalities that make up the Brussels capital region (population 1.2 million).
In December, the Belgian weekly newsmagazine Le Vif/L’Express accused two dozen local officials of receiving thousands of euros for board meetings that they did not attend at Publifin, a government-run company that distributes electricity and gas in the French-speaking region of Wallonia. A criminal investigation was opened, and several local politicians resigned.



Homeless men at a Brussels Samusocial shelter in the Belgian capital in 2013.CreditBruno Fahy/Belga, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

Then, in February, the Flemish newspaper De Tijd revealed that the speaker of Parliament, Siegfried Bracke, had received a salary of €12,000 a year and a stipend of €2,000 per meeting to serve on the advisory board of Telenet Group, a private company that provides cable and broadband services. Mr. Bracke, who is also a city councilor in Ghent, resigned from the board.
The latest controversy has elicited particular outrage, however, given that the agency that paid Mr. Mayeur, Brussels Samusocial, is intended to help the homeless.
“Every euro dedicated to the fight against poverty needs to go to the fight against poverty, and absolutely nothing else,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said in Parliament, calling the revelations a “slap in the face” of social workers.
Even members of Mr. Mayeur’s Socialist Party acknowledged that the situation was bad.
“He made a fault, an ethical fault, that is to say, as a public official he accepted payments for that work, and he should not have done that,” said Laurette Onkelinx, leader of the Brussels Socialist Party and an ally of Mr. Mayeur’s. She called Mr. Mayeur’s resignation a “heavy punishment.”
On Friday, the Brussels prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the management practices at the charity, to bring to light “any possible criminal offenses,” according to Denis Goeman, a spokesman for the office.
But even if no charges are brought, the scandal has quickly rippled through the local government here. The board of Brussels Samusocial collectively resigned, as did Pascale Peraita, the director of an oversight body, the Brussels Public Center for Social Welfare, and an erstwhile ally of Mr. Mayeur’s; the center’s offices were raided on Monday by investigators.
However, Martin Conway, a historian at Oxford and an expert on Belgian political culture, said he would be surprised if the investigation led to criminal charges. “Samusocial seems an entirely normal sort of Belgian institution: getting state funds to allocate support to the homeless, but also using its budget to reward those who served as its political nominees,” he said in an interview. “It seems as though Mayeur was probably doing this on a more extravagant scale than his predecessors, but he was still operating within normal Belgian political laws of favoritism.”
Mr. Mayeur came to office after the previous mayor and fellow party member, Freddy Thielemans, resigned in 2013. Mr. Mayeur’s likely successor as mayor, Philippe Close, may have failed to declare several unpaid voluntary positions he holds, according to local news reports.
“These ethically dubious practices have been part of the old-fashioned way of doing politics in Belgium for decades,” said Marc Reynebeau, a Belgian historian and columnist. “There is a rising distrust of politicians, suspicion of corruption, and sensitivity to scandals, and so we’re seeing more and more of these scandals returning lately. This hangs together with the wave of populism we’re seeing in the rest of Europe.”
He added, “Political parties, especially those who have been in power for a long time, tend to concentrate ever more power in their own hands by positioning party members in as many public, para-public and private entities as possible, effectively building parallel political structures.”
Mr. Reynebeau warned, “The traditional parties cannot keep ignoring these scandals.”
Brussels Samusocial is a private nonprofit organization and operates independently of the government, but it is largely reliant on public funds and most of its work comes through government contracts. It employs 250 people — and as many as 450 people during the winter — to provide shelter, medical assistance and other services to homeless people in Brussels.
“We are surprised and disappointed, and we want these practices to end, because it casts disrespect on our team, the work and the people of our organization,” said Christophe Thielens, a spokesman for the operational side of the charity, who emphasized that there was a clear distinction between the administrative and the operational sides of the organization.
The authorities estimate that Brussels has 5,000 to 10,000 homeless people. Last year, at least 72 street people died, according to Collectif Les Morts de La Rue, a group that helps the homeless. 


COMMENTAIRE DE DIVERCITY
BRUXELLES VU DE NY 

Pour ceux qui auraient manqué un épisode voici le feuilleton complet de la sage du «  world’s wealthiest failed state » ;
Pas du quoi pavoiser.
“The bizarre resignation is only the latest of several corruption scandals that have ensnared politicians and sowed doubt about the health of democracy in Belgium, a country where power is divided along regional and linguistic lines, and across multiple layers of government: federal, regional, communal, provincial and local.”
“He made a fault, an ethical fault, that is to say, as a public official he accepted payments for that work, and he should not have done that,” (said Laurette Onkelinx)
Martin Conway, a historian at Oxford and an expert on Belgian political culture: “Samusocial seems an entirely normal sort of Belgian institution: getting state funds to allocate support to the homeless, but also using its budget to reward those who served as its political nominees,”
“There is a rising distrust of politicians, suspicion of corruption, and sensitivity to scandals, and so we’re seeing more and more of these scandals returning lately. This hangs together with the wave of populism we’re seeing in the rest of Europe.”
“Political parties, especially those who have been in power for a long time, tend to concentrate ever more power in their own hands by positioning party members in as many public, para-public and private entities as possible, effectively building parallel political structures.”
Marc Reynebeau (De Standaard) warned, “The traditional parties cannot keep ignoring these scandals.”
Et on s’étonnera ensuite que le rating de la Belgique va encore perdre quelques points. 

Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium, left, and Siegfried Bracke, the Parliament speaker, in 2014.CreditNicolas Maeterlinck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images







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