An official of the Brussels Housing regional agency, who was the first Brussels resident to be temporarily protected by a whistleblower statute, has been fired for “behaving inappropriately”. Brussels Housing started a disciplinary procedure against the man, exactly one day after BRUZZ published an article based on his information about an unpaid subsidy for the poorest families waiting for social housing.
Louis (alias) worked for more than a year at the Brussels Regional Public Service (GOB), more specifically within Brussels Housing, until on the eve of his Easter leave he received an email from the secretary-general of the BRPS announcing his resignation, a dismissal “because of his unsuitability for the performance of a function within the BRPS, after an unfavorable internship report”.
Louis had noticed a number of problems within Brussels Housing in the past year. Abuses that he already brought up in the autumn with his hierarchy and with competent State Secretary Nawal Ben Hamou (PS), but that did not lead to the desired result for him.
Rental allowances for the poorest
So Louis contacted BRUZZ, among others, which published an article at the beginning of February about the fact that the rent allowance, a subsidy for the most priority cases on the waiting list for social housing, was still not paid after years .
The article led to parliamentary questions in the Housing Committee that day, and in the plenary the next day. Subsequently, State Secretary Ben Hamou enforced within her administration that some 400 families who were the only ones who received the old version of the rent allowance, but had suddenly fallen without it, from now on receive the new rent allowance. After all, they are already in the IT system and count on the allowance to be able to pay their rent on the private market.
But the situation did not change for the 11,600 other rights holders. Just last Thursday, the State Secretary had to admit in the Housing Committee that those 11,600 households still do not receive the rent allowance. She cited issues with the IT system and the GDPR, but said the administration is “about to pay” in 1,068 files.
Back to early February. Exactly one hour after the end of the plenary session on the rent allowance – a few days after his “internship” within the government service – Louis received an email that a disciplinary investigation had been opened against him.
Two weeks later, after informing the RTBF about sexual harassment within the BRPS, Louis was the first Brussels resident to apply for and receive protection under the whistleblower statute, which is not yet fully registered in Brussels law.
Louis had applied for protection because he feared reprisals as a result of the disciplinary investigation. In an email, which BRUZZ was able to view, the new ombudswoman Catherine De Bruecker confirms that Louis’s application falls within the scope of that statute.
Another two weeks later, De Bruecker withdrew the whistleblower status because she read negative findings in Louis’s internship file, “especially in terms of cooperation and attitude”. Two days later, Louis had a disciplinary hearing, after which he was fired.
A former colleague of Louis, who also wants to remain anonymous for fear of the same consequences, clearly sees a retaliatory measure in this. “There have been problems within Brussels Housing for years and years. The service does not function well, the employees process too few files, there is the IT problem, mainly a lack of competence among the people who have to make decisions about this. References are made again now. to IT issues not to pay the rent allowances, but those are pretexts.”
“Louis’s negative evaluations started when he raised issues late last year and really surfaced when articles appeared in the press. His colleagues started to mistrust and harass him.”
Louis has hired a lawyer and is initiating civil proceedings against the Region and against the Ombudsman, in order to reverse the dismissal and to obtain compensation.
When asked for a reply, the spokesperson for Brussels minister Sven Gatz (Open VLD), responsible for the Public Service, stated that a response is currently impossible, as legal proceedings are underway. The secretary-general of the Brussels Regional Public Service Julie Fiszman is also unable to respond for the same reason.