Audit Flanders has a damning report on the VRT ready. This included blurring of standards and irregularities in public contracts. The VRT wants to clean up their house quickly.
Audit Flanders launched an investigation last year after a a big fight was broken out between then CEO Paul Lembrechts and media director Peter Claes, the de facto number two in the organization. In the margins of that fight, which cost both men their jobs, an investigation was started into irregularities in the board of directors.
That investigation has been completed and does not paint a very good picture of the internal state of affairs in some departments. On the one hand, this concerns a cultural problem in dealing with the law on public contracts. In some cases, these would not only be inadequately drawn up and complied with, but also not follow the procurement rules. Political circles speak of a culture of favoritism and ‘we know us’, where cheaper options were ignored because they preferred to work with suppliers preferred by the VRT.
On the other hand, there is a series of examples in which internally the edges of certain procedures and rules were taken. In a press release, the VRT says that the report ‘gives the impression of inadequate organizational control and insufficient sense of integrity among certain employees’. According to our information, it is not so much about serious, financially drastic facts or corruption, but rather about a culture of blurring of standards among some employees.
What is stated in that report is not acceptable in any company and certainly not with a public broadcaster that is partly financed with the money of the Flemish people.
In an internal email to the staff, Frederik Delaplace, CEO at the Reyerslaan since August, indicates that he is shocked by the report. ‘An accumulation of small and large mistakes creates the image of an organization that does not always have integrity in its actions’, he writes. “What is in that report is not acceptable in any company, and certainly not with a public broadcaster that is partly financed with Flemish money.”
It remains to be seen whether the report of Audit Vlaanderen gets a judicial tail. The document has been submitted to the judicial authorities, which themselves decide whether criminal offenses have been committed.
The public broadcaster says it will take the recommendations from the report to heart and promises ‘to ensure better respect for the law on public contracts, to make contract management sound and to sharpen integrity awareness’. The concrete form that this takes will have to become clear in the coming weeks, but Delaplace declares a ‘zero tolerance’ both internally and externally for non-compliance with rules and any lack of integrity.
The expectation in political circles is that Delaplace will seize the momentum to clean up its corporate culture. “With this report in hand, he has the ideal weapon to muck out the stable,” says an insider. If the CEO is able to act quickly and decisively, this could benefit the VRT in the final straight line to the negotiations on the new management agreement, it still sounds.
With this report, the VRT hopes to draw a line under the turbulent period that started the fight at the top. But it may never be really quiet on the Reyerslaan. On Friday it became known that ex-VRT celebrity Bart De Pauw is demanding compensation of 10 million euros of the public broadcaster. De Pauw, who will soon appear before the criminal court in a case of harassment and stalking, claims that the VRT committed a character murder on him without any form of evidence, resulting in emotional and financial havoc.
Flemish Minister of Media, Benjamin Dalle (CD&V) has received the conclusions of the investigation by Audit Flanders and has contacted CEO Delaplace about this. ‘The VRT assured that the management will work on the conclusions of the report. As a public broadcaster, the VRT has an exemplary function in complying with all rules. The VRT assured that the control of correct compliance with rules and deontology will be tightened with immediate effect. ‘ Dalle insists that the recommendations are implemented and that this is included in the management agreement.