The Belgian authorities need to reinforce the transparency surrounding the questions of responsibility and integrity of federal ministers, the anti-corruption agency of the Council of Europe has advised.
The report from Greco – the group of states against corruption – also calls on the government to review the rules on what other activities police officers are allowed to take part in when off-duty.
“There is not a policy on integrity or an ethical framework worth the name applicable to ministers,” Greco concludes. The employment of members of the minister’s personal cabinet, as well as their remuneration, is entirely a matter of their personal choice, or that of their political party. At the same time, there are no rules on moving to a job in the private sector, on relations with third parties, conflicts of interest or the receipt of gifts and favours.
The report singles out one well-publicised case, concerning ex-minister Joëlle Milquet, who denies any wrong-doing. .
“One former minister was incriminated for having employed staff in her strategic office to work on her electoral campaign, although they were being paid with public funds, and that political parties receive funding from the state. According to information gathered by the evaluation team of Greco, meetings of the political parties often took place in the offices of the government. Such a mixture of competences is clearly something to avoid.”
The report calls for a more solid structure for the employment of cabinet staff and the duties they have, including a clear code of ethical conduct for those responsible at the highest level.
Greco also turned its attention to the federal police, which it concludes enjoys a positive reputation among members of the public, but which at the same time suffers from a lack of resources, which makes fighting corruption more difficult. Here, too, a clear code of conduct is required.
“The most important shortcoming concerning the federal police is the recent change in the rules on external activities, which have gone from a more restrictive practice to an almost carte blanche authorisation. The change in the rules raises a number of questions on the prevention of conflicts of interest, and the management of working time,” the report says.
The exercise of these external functions – most commonly, taking up temporary and part-time employment in security duties in the private sector – needs to be governed within a strong framework of rules and criteria.
The Belgian government now has 18 months to deliver a report back to Greco outlining the measures that have been taken in response to its criticisms. In 2021, Greco itself will deliver another report on the implementation of its recommendations.