The Brussels Parliament on Friday unanimously passed a raft of measures aimed at capping the emoluments of public representatives at the regional and local levels, beefing up transparency and monitoring, and sanctioning offending officials. The measures – two ordinances, one regulation and a resolution – were worked out by parliament’s Governance Group, comprising representatives of no fewer than 10 parties and chaired by Charles Picqué of the Socialist Party (PS). They tighten up requirements regarding remuneration, transparency and the control of mandates to such an extent that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to violate them without being caught.
The measures include a new ordinance on transparency of remuneration and advantages that will apply a ceiling of 150% of the income of a federal parliamentarian to more regional and local representatives than the existing ordinance, adopted in 2006. The officials concerned now include mayors, aldermen, public social welfare centre (CPAS) heads and advisers, regional parliamentarians, municipal councilors, members of boards and para-regional institutions, government commissioners and sitting members of public intercommunal and non-profit bodies.
The list of incomes to be included when calculating the 150% ceiling will now include all public earnings of any type, especially those accruing from special parliamentary functions such as head of a commission or political group, or member of the bureau, as well as private emoluments from functions carried out in a body covered by public procurement rules. Income from management companies will be prohibited.
An annual report of public remuneration, advantages, participation in meetings and possible representation costs will be published on the Internet and sent to the Court of Audit.
All mandates, public functions and associated remuneration of each mayor, alderman and CPAS head will be published individually as well as the list of all their private professional activities, complete with their income tax returns.
Monitoring will be conducted by a Transparency of Income Cell that is being created in the Brussels Parliament and by a Commission of Ethics that will issue advisories of a general nature or on specific cases of professional ethics or potential conflicts of interest.
The Commission will be made up of experts – former magistrates and academics – and former public officials, and may receive submissions from private persons, under given conditions, on issues of ethics linked to the exercise of his/her functions by a public appointee.
Violations could be sanctioned by the withholding of 10% to 100% of public earnings.
During the debate on the measures, almost all speakers welcomed the fact that the Brussels Region was taking the lead on good governance in Belgium. Many parliamentarians seized the opportunity to voice their expectations about subsequent discussions on governance, which some would like to see improved in certain areas.
In this regard, the head of the Reformist Movement (MD), Vincent De Wolf, called for an annual register of subsidies allocated by the government to associations, better objectivation of the designation of senior officials, complete information for citizens on the salaries of ministers, the composition of cabinets and travel, and the creation of a mediation service for citizens.
Benoît Cerexhe of the Humanist Democratic Centre, cdH, said he was in favour of scrapping the devolving effect of voters’ lists and deputizing. He said the next phase should be to limit the incomes of intercommunal managers. The cdH also feels voters should be allowed to choose the coalitions they want.
However, De Wolf and Cerexhe did not mention the separation of the posts of mayor, alderman and CPAS president, from that of parliamentarian, which the PS, ecologists and Democratic Federalist Independent (DéFI) party advocate. These groups set a ceiling of 25% of the assembly in Wallonia.
Both Zoe Genot (Ecologists) and Emmanuel De Bock (DéFI) stressed that the package of measures adopted on Friday must be just a minimum first step in the right direction. Caroline Désir (PS) stressed that the socialists would be willing to engage in any reflection on improving public management in Brussels, provided its usefulness is not solely defined by its media interest.