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Minister defiant over office makeover

Published on 13/12/2004

13 December 2004

BRUSSELS – Marie Arena, the Socialist minister president of Belgium’s French community government, has denied she lied over  a EUR 300,000 bill for renovations at her office.

The minister has been caught up in a media storm over the bill, with the press depicting her as a champagne socialist.

The situation worsened when she insisted the bill for improvements was for the entire 11,000-square-metre building at Place Surlet de Chokier in central Brussels.

In fact, documents showed Arena had earmarked the sum for just the fourth floor, the facilities of the minister president and her team.

On Sunday, Arena admitted on the Belgian TV programme Mise au point on the RTBF channel that she hadn’t given the correct information over the bill. “But there was absolutely no intention to lie,” she insisted.

She said she had “wanted to simplify the message” and so had given an example which had “given the impression that the EUR 300,000 concerned the 11,000-square-metres”.

According to Arena, the previous government under the Liberal minister presidency of Herve Hasquin had decided in 2004 to allocate EUR 200,000 per year in the French community government headquarters.

The socialist said she had decided to spend the first budget – to which she added EUR 100,000 from her own maintenance budget – on the fourth floor.

The decision wasn’t motivated by a whim or by expensive tastes, she said.

“These renovations concern 4.2 million French community residents. It’s not a building just for me, but a building for everyone.”

Experts have said the sum of EUR 300,000 for such a renovation is not over the top.

On Tuesday, Arena will have to repeat her defence in front of the Parliament where opposition parties are likely to give her a grilling.

That may not be the end of the affair, however, since some socialist members have been angered by the fact that Liberals have provided documents to the press to embarrass Arena.

They have hinted privately that they may disclose spending details from MR members when they were in power.

Bills could include the purchase of expensive wooden patios and cigar boxes.

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news