The Commission of Inquiry into Samusocial heard, on Tuesday morning, Evelyne Huytebroeck, who from 2004 to 2014 was the minister responsible for the non-profit in the Brussels Government. Her testimony highlighted years of political tension over the management of homeless shelters in the Belgian capital.
Representatives of the opposition Reformist Movement (MR) Party on the Commission expressed astonishment over the time it took to commission a report from the Financial Inspection Department (2013). Ms Huytebroeck, who is from the Ecologists (Ecolo) Party, said this step was taken “when we thought things did not seem right”.
Samusocial, which caters for homeless persons, has been in the news ever since reports surfaced about the mishandling of resources at the agency, involving then Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur and Samusocial Director Pascale Peraïta. The two are suspected of siphoning off two-thirds of the budget earmarked for non-profit’s administrators in 2014-2015.
Ex-Minister Huytebroeck recalled that Samusocial had the official status of a private association, which meant that the Government did not automatically have direct access to information on it. Thus, she said, she had never been informed, while she was minister, that members of the board and executives of the non-profit association received attendance fees, for example.
The Commission of Inquiry also heard former minister Brigitte Grouwels of the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) party, who was responsible for social assistance within the Commission Communautaire Commune (CCC – Common Community Commission) from 2009 to 2014.
Huytebroeck painted a picture of some 20 years of dissension around the fight against poverty in Brussels. From the 1990s onward, she said, there was visible tension between associations active in the sector, between Samusocial and the ministries, and between political parties, on the modalities of creating a public association and a reference centre.
The reference centre was partly created in the form of a support centre in 2007. The former head of the social assistance board of Ixelles, Anne Herscovici (Ecolo Party), was selected to manage it, the minister said, explaining that she was chosen solely because of her competence, and through a selection procedure.
She explained that Mayeur and Peraïta refused from the inception any collaboration with the support centre, contending that Samusocial should be the sole interlocutor for the homeless sector. In 2013, the cabinet of Prime Minister Rudi Vervoort (Socialist Party) refused to designate an observer from the CCC college to sit on the Samusocial board. Christopher Vincent The Brussels Times