Veerle Heeren, mayor of the city of Sint-Truiden in Limburg, made an ethical error in arranging for herself and family members to jump the queue for vaccination at the start of the campaign in March.
Heeren (CD&V) was suspended for her post by Limburg governor Jos Lantmeeters in May when the allegations first surfaced, on the orders of Flemish home affairs minister Bart Somers (Open VLD). She has since been reinstated.
In the meantime, however, an investigation was carried out by Audit Vlaanderen, the Flemish government’s official audit bureau. The report of that investigation has now been published, but the question now is, who should get to see it?
The allegation against Heeren (aged 56) is that she took advantage of her position as mayor to get herself vaccinated not once, but twice, when people of her age group were still not eligible unless they had co-morbidities or medical conditions that made them particularly vulnerable.
Heeren has never denied she was vaccinated out of line, but claimed she was on duty at the vaccination centre and was asked by staff there if they might use up spare doses by giving her one.
More serious is the allegation that she also pulled strings to ensure members of her family and her private staff were also vaccinated ahead of the rest of the population.
According to reports, Audit Vlaanderen has concluded that Heeren made an ‘ethical error,’ but that account should be taken of the chaotic circumstances of the start of the vaccination campaign, and the lack of effective management.
The full contents of the report will have to be made public before it becomes clear why chaotic circumstances at vaccination centres should have all gone in favour of the city mayor and her associates. In the meantime, opposition and coalition parties on the city council are bickering about whether all members of the council should get to see the report, or only members of the administration.
Heeren’s own party, Christian democrats CD&V, issued a statement yesterday calling for “full transparency” on the issue, and promising to comply if a two-thirds majority of the council votes in favour of releasing the audit report to all members.
The party also favours, in that case, a public release of the details of the audit, providing the privacy rules already in place are respected.
“Our position is therefore clear: we stand for 100% openness and transparency. For the rest, we hope that all parties involved will handle this file calmly, with respect for legislation and privacy rules,” the mayor’s party concludes.