‘Don’t create chaos’: mayors criticise communication on exit plan
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    ‘Don’t create chaos’: mayors criticise communication on exit plan

    Credit: Belga

    Flemish mayors are annoyed by the premature communication by regional ministers and governments about measures that have not officially been approved yet.

    “My colleagues and I have no problem taking responsibility, but do not create chaos that we always have to rectify,” wrote Christophe De Graef, mayor of Diest in the Flemish Brabant province, in a Facebook post on Sunday.

    Several other mayors have since spoken out about what they call premature communication that only serves to confuse the citizens.


    What prompted the Facebook post was last weekend’s announcement by Flemish Minister for Education Ben Weyts that nursery schools could reopen from 2 June, and that more pupils would be allowed to return to class.

    The National Security Council has not yet given the go-ahead for this back-to-school plan, but many mayors state that they have been getting many questions about it.

    “Now, every Flemish minister wants to communicate as soon as possible. They almost stumble over each other to be the first to come out with news,” De Graef said. “But this is about advice to the Security Council, so do not talk about it until the decision is final,” he said, adding that “this way, they’re driving everyone crazy.”

    De Graef said that he understands that the authorities want to communicate as quickly as possible about decisions that were taken, and that everyone is waiting for a final decision.

    “At a time when we have been asking our residents for months for far-reaching and difficult things, when we are asking boards of directors, teachers, youth, sport and culture to make difficult decisions and to enforce them, you would really expect the government to speak as one, and above all to decide when to communicate: at a time when things are clear,” Mohamed Ridouani, mayor of Leuven, told VRT. If there is too much confusion, there is a risk of losing support for the decisions, he added.

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    “Two months after the start of the crisis, we find that decisions are still too often taken higher up than local,” Nathalie Debast, spokesperson for the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG), told De Standaard. “However, local authorities are crucial in tackling the crisis. They want to have more to say, and also demand better coordination and communication of measures,” she added.

    Many cities and municipalities are in several task forces, but they still often have the impression that their opinions are not taken into account sufficiently.

    “We want to be in the cockpit as well. A task force is not enough to cushion the impact of measures on local authorities,” said Debast. “Local authorities do not want others to present them with a fait accompli, they want to be at the table and have a say in the decisions,” she added.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times