Belgium now officially starts paying Covid experts advising the government

Belgium now officially starts paying Covid experts advising the government
Credit: Belga

Following numerous discussions earlier this year, the GEMS experts advising the federal government can now count on a retroactive compensation of €50 per hour of meeting until 7 December.

The decision about payment of the GEMS-experts, which include Erika Vlieghe, Steven Van Gucht, Pierre Van Damme and Marc Van Ranst, was already made when the new advisory board was elected in December, but the Ministerial Decree has only now been published.

"This compensation for participating in meetings covers the necessary preparatory work, the drafting of reports and other work, as well as any travel expenses," the Belgian Official Journal now states.

The compensation will be granted retroactively, starting from 7 December 2020.

It concerns sitting fees per attended meeting, at a rate of €50 per hour, which is the same rate as the experts of the Superior Health Council and the Federal Health Care Knowledge Centre.

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However, it only applies to plenary meetings of the GEMS, which means that public officials who are part of the expert group, such as virologist Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government institution, cannot claim it.

"I am not interested in compensation," virologist Marc Van Ranst told De Standaard.

Back in February, he already stated that he would not accept the payment, saying that "if some politicians start playing political games with payments to the experts, even before the arrangement is in place, then I will not accept that payment."

His statements were in response to remarks by Georges-Louis Bouchez, the president of the Francophone liberal MR party, who said that experts who are paid by the government should not constantly question its decisions, but instead defend its policy.

"We are not consultants," Van Ranst told De Standaard. "Consultants make reports in line with what their client wants. And the government does not see us as consultants either, because then the fee it offers would be much higher."

"As a professor, I make a good living," he said. "Additionally, as a professor, it is my duty to serve the nation. The taxpayer does not have to pay me for that."

The chair of the GEMS group, infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe, also stated back in February that she would not accept the payment. "And I am not one to change my mind," she told De Standaard.

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