An abuse of trust?

18th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

Allegations of fraud at a social housing project in Wallonia have left the Francophone Socialist party politically scarred by the scandal. But where does the abuse end? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

The Socialist PS party has vowed to stamp out fraud in party backrooms

Something is wrong in Wallonia — and we are not talking about the region's often-discussed economic stagnation.

At the heart of the Socialist PS party, allegations of fraud are tearing the party apart.

Wallonian premier Jean-Claude van Cauwenberghe was forced to resign at the start of October. Earlier, three aldermen were removed from office.

One of the aldermen and a former senator are now facing fraud charges, while a second alderman is in jail. He was to appear in court on Tuesday.

This is the price paid so far for the alleged fraud at the social housing company 'La Carolorégienne' in Charleroi.

Renewed controversy

Recent weeks have indicated that taxpayers' money was not only being abused in Charleroi — new reports are emerging every day of fraud, abuse and nepotism in Wallonia.

A special government commissioner was appointed to stamp out fraud within each of the the region's social housing companies, where the situation appears to be at its worst.

However, not all of those appointments have proven a success.

In Bergen, the home base of PS leader and new Wallonian Premier Elio di Rupo, the commissioner has also become embroiled in controversy.

PS leader Elio di Rupo

In 2004, Raphaël Pöllet was appointed to the social housing company 'Toit et Moi' with a gross annual salary of EUR 148,736.

The 34 percent employers' contribution for social security was paid on top of that by his employer, while Pöllet was also given a Volkswagen Phaeton (EUR 1,920 per month), a mobile phone, company-paid dinners and a computer.

In addition, Pöllet and colleagues also rent business seats at the Bergen football club stadium.

"I bought a car for a bargain because I insisted on a low price. But for image, that was not a good thing," Pöllet told French-language newspaper 'La Dernière Heure' on Monday.

And according to one of his colleagues, experts are not attracted to a top job such as Pöllet's for "peanuts".

However, Flemish newspaper 'De Standaard' warns that the best gamekeepers are former poachers, but a problem arises if the gamekeeper is also a poacher.

In response to the controversy, Pöllet resigned on Tuesday as chairman of the PS federation in Wallonian Brabant to prevent a conflict of interest between political duties and his role as a government commissioner.

He can thus completely concentrate on his task as commissioner at 'Toit et Moi', where 100 of the housing company's 110 workers have signed a petition in support of Pöllet.

Operation anti-fraud

Reports of mismanagement and financial abuse at La Caroloregienne hit Belgian media mid-September.

Three PS aldermen were initially accused of abusing their position on the company's board by claiming extravagant food and travel expenses or fraudulent income.

Rumours of embezzlement have also started circulating as the scandal widens, striking at the heart of the Socialist PS party.

In the midst of the affair, PS has been forced to amend its statutes to allow leader Di Rupo to also serve as Wallonian Premier after the resignation of Van Cauwenberghe.

And against the backdrop of the latest controversy — this time over Pöllet's extravagant remuneration package — the operation to clear the PS party of fraud and abuse continues.

"We have to make sure we investigate this at every level, in every nook of the PS. I believe our behaviour should on all points conform to our values and we can't justify any breach when it comes to that," PS leader Di Rupo recently said.

The Francophone Socialists subsequently introduced a new internal audit team to the Belgian media on Monday.

It will be led by Jean-François Cats, honorary chairman of the Institute of Business Auditors.

He is joined by the chairman of the ethical committee of ins

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