Politics

De Backer (Open Vld) spends 1 million euros on consultants, promises corona app “within a few weeks”

More than two months after she was announced, a corona app is now coming to help with tracking and tracing the virus. That says minister Philippe De Backer (Open Vld). The app’s project experienced a political agony, which prevented the tangle of Belgian powers. De Backer has already spent over 1 million euros on external consultants who supervise his cabinet.

In the news: The result of the Open Vld Presidential election is known today at noon.

The details: Today the curtain may already fall on the chairmanship of Gwendolyn Rutten (Open Vld).

  • It’s about the first round, with four candidates. Whoever achieves more than 50 percent wins. If no one does, the two best scoring candidates go to a second round.
  • Much depends on the insiders down from Els Ampe’s score (Open Vld): If she achieves more than a symbolic score of about 5 percent, she will probably force a second round. Because then it becomes more difficult for one of the favorites to cross the 50 percent threshold.
  • The favorite, at least according to the feeling in that camp, is Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld). He hopes in silence be able to do it in one round, which immediately gives a clear and clear mandate. But even if Ampe scores well, it is assumed that those votes go to the dark blue Lachaert, rather than the lighter blue Bart Tommelein (Open Vld).
  • The latter is absolutely not defeatist: “The lines do not always run as the Wetstraat thinks“, It is said there. There is no problem admitting that Lachaert probably won the campaign on social media, “but whether that is sufficient will have to be proven.”
  • It is a big question wide membership of Open Vld: no less than 60,000 Open Vlds can vote. “Very unpredictable, there are people who already no longer vote for Open Vld themselves, who are not active, but who may now want to have a foert voice and go for Ampe.”

The big picture: The whole of the Wetstraat holds its breath and keeps an eye on Melsensstraat 34 this afternoon.

  • For a start it is end of an era: in 2012, Rutten became chairman in a race against Lachaert. After seven years she passes the torch. Rutten piloted her party in 2014 in the federal and Flemish governments. In the 2019 elections, she was candidate prime minister, and in November of that year she also came close to it, in a possible purple-green coalition.
  • The struggle that ensued internally, echoes in the current blue ballot box: Lachaert stands for a more right course, and a coalition without the greens, Tommelein has more of a continuity profile, where all coalitions can.
  • That is why all other actors in the Wetstraat follow the race with a lot of attention. Just about everyone realizes that with a solid profit from Lachaert, the door to a purple-green coalition closes a lot more: the “fans” of purple-yellow hope for the man from Merelbeke.
  • At the same time, a profit for Tommelein would be the leave purple-green possibility firmly open, to have Open Vld federally join forces with PS and Ecolo, and who knows how to take the Sixteen. That would open up options for the French-speaking socialists of Paul Magnette (PS), who for the time being is taking the initiative together with Conner Rousseau (sp.a) to start conversations.
  • Not that there are suddenly major breakthroughs coming. “Everyone is waiting for usUntil then, nothing serious happens in those conversations, “comments a liberal leader.

Hard numbers: With the crisis, expensive consultants have also settled on Wetstraat to assist the government.

  • Strikingly, John Crombez (sp.a) wanted to know what that picture costs. It is only increasing at Philippe De Backer (Open Vld), who is responsible for the supply of medical equipment and the development of data. De Backer admitted in the Chamber that his cabinet in two months spent no less than 1 million euros on external consultants.
  • “Up to now 600,000 euros have been paid out for Deloitte. For the consultants in connection with the data, this amount is around 100,000 euros. The sum for the purchasing team is currently 300,000 euros, ”De Backer explained, summing up that the teams have worked non-stop. “They are being phased out step by step. They have an invaluable contribution. ”
  • “That amount makes me dizzy, considering the messy state of affairs in the field procedures and complaints from Flemish companies about that market, ”commented Crombez.
  • “It is absolutely justifiable that we have worked this way. That expertise was clearly needed to fine-tune the processes, ”said De Backer.

Striking plot twist in the Wetstraat: Whoever thought that a corona app to track and trace was dead and buried is mistaken.

  • Minister De Backer (Open Vld) announces that that app, which people can download to keep track of who they came into contact with, and whether they are at risk of being infected, is coming now anyway. In an Asian country, such an app works to further curb the virus.
  • “The legal framework, including on privacy, will soon be ready. below there is a consortium headed by Bart Preneel from KU Leuven, which is very advanced. We should have an app within a few weeks, ”explains De Backer.
  • On To the point Wednesday he had already said something along those lines: “No, that app was never removedbut first we had to set up that contact investigation. That choice has been made in consultation with the regions. Now we can add that app in a complementary way. ”

The essence: Contact tracing should become the key to the fight against COVID-19. But that is not going well.

  • The “manual” tracing, with a contract via private call centers and the mutual insurance companies, can cost more than 100 million euroseven if it is probably not going so fast.
  • But worse is that it is getting stiff, that calling: at the beginning of the week reach half to 60 percent of infected people. Phone numbers were missing, the IT system faltered. And even worse: the infected persons hardly pass on any information. There is no confidence in sharing information: on average, infected people only pass on one person, so it is not plausible.
  • In addition, there is still too much time between a positive test and contact with a tracer. This is now on average 48 hours: a lot of time for the virus to spread.
  • This is how digital tracking and tracing emerges again: in a digitized world, there are really cheaper and more reliable methods for detecting infected people: via an app on the smartphone, as is used in Asia, among others.
  • Only that app is now almost the Loch Ness monster in the Wetstraat: it pops up and down, and nobody has really seen it.

Where did it go wrong? The app’s story reads like a painful waste of time and money.

  • However, in March, when the pandemic broke out, it was the trail that the federal government followed: digital tracing. On Friday 20 March, the Ministers of Health and of the Digital Agenda, Maggie De Block (Open Vld) and De Backer, already announced that they had set up “a task force to analyze the spread of the coronavirus using telecom and epidemiological data“.
  • The regions were not in that task force, which would lead to tension later. De Backer immediately announced that “in the coming days and weeks the taskforce will develop and test specific applications, such as manners to map the location and spread of the disease (…) And solutions for targeted dissemination of information in high-risk locations ”.
  • De Backer immediately made a call: “Organizations that think they can contribute can make a proposal to the work of the task force by supplying anonymous data. “
  • On March 28, there is a meeting with the regions, at which the prime ministers are. But the head of cabinet of Wouter Beke (CD&V) is also somewhat surprising. “It made it clear that the Flemish government would be on her stripes, they were competent for tracing ”, the federal government says.
  • At that time, at the end of March, the De Backer cabinet alreadyseveral dozen proposals, including contact tracing apps“. They ask all projects not to launch without government agreement, and to remain discreet about the entire project.
  • A number of developers of an app today do not respond positively to the “cooperation” with the government. One consortium was “Covid19 Alert!” From one number of young tech entrepreneurs, developers, scientists and even virologists. The whole thing originated organically, but is now a large team, even in the Netherlands among the last seven groups that compete to build the app in the Netherlands.
  • “At first we were asked to continue working enthusiastically, but to be discreet. And suddenly, after a period of three to four weeks, he then has suddenly via text to someone on our team who was working in the background, but who he knew himself, let me know: “I can’t decide anything about that.” That was a tackle to us ”, says Bruce Lybeer, one of the initiators.

Typical “Belgian” states: Who is actually in charge?

  • On April 4 follows new consultation of De Backer with the regions, where the tracing continues. “There was a clear one call to action and ask for feedback, ”says his cabinet. In that week, they also conduct several online conversations with potential developers.
  • The file also comes at the core of the federal government, on March 7, March 12, and March 18. In between, there are also presentations to the Risk Management Group, the experts.
  • But as the month of April passes, it is increasingly clear that it is not progressing with the regions, according to the cabinet of De Backer. “Which kept dragging on, we just passed on the case. ”
  • On April 20 there is an interministerial conference, with the regions, to which De Backer passes the case. Suddenly they have to set up manual contact tracing: in a few weeks they have to look for up to 1,200 employees. Just about all media attention has since gone to that form of tracing.
  • “Until April 20, the message was that work would be done Bottom-up tracing. So via an app, Says the Beke cabinet.
  • “It felt as if De Backer had suddenly pushed the hot potato to the regions,” the corridors of the app say. The fact is that with the liberals questions about privacy around the app increased, and were sharp. Has that meant that De Backer didn’t feel like venturing into such sensitive matter?
  • In circles around the federal minister, another explanation is heard: “The regions did not go along proactively, but like a Roman emperor kept thumbs up or down with every step. That had its limits. ”
  • On April 22, De Backer announced on the radio that not one but three apps will be released: it is the federal states that decide, and who need to know whether and which app they will use. There they are: the digital task force was not a federal working group, was it? However, the Flemish and Walloon governments are quite quick to let you know that in any case there should be one app for all of Belgium.
  • De Backer also changed course communicatively: “There is no need for an app for contact researchHe says on April 23 Villa Politica. “It is done manually and it has been around for years. They write down who they have been in contact with and call those persons. Those persons must in turn be tested. That is the system we need to identify the virus and stop its spread. ” He also refers to the example of Austria, where a similar app is downloaded too little to be useful: “To work, about 60 percent of the population must download it.”
  • “We have first fully focused on setting up manual tracing, in this phase. We succeeded, albeit with a few teething problems, which was nevertheless a great challenge ”, according to Beke.
  • The developers disappointment, such as Covid19 Alert !, is great: “From Beke we have received the signal that an app is not in order,” says Lybeer.
  • At Beke it is pointed out that the focus until now has been on manual tracing, but that it is a one-and-one story. “It has always been our understanding that it was not all obvious. So that the app did not work was not the big issue. It is that the ball was suddenly passed on to us. While the message could also have been: we have a problem, how do we solve it? ”, The Flemish government has heard.
  • And now De Backer comes with the announcement that there will be an app, “within a few weeks“. This will therefore be an initiative of its own, with Bart Preneel of KU Leuven.
  • Our app has been ready for six weeks. It was the first in the world to do contact tracing anonymously with Bluetooth technology. It is originally a Belgian citizens’ initiative of top developers and scientists, ”says Lybeer of Covid19-Alert.eu.
  • At Beke, De Backer’s promise is somewhat nuanced. The interfederal committee, which includes experts and representatives of the federal states chaired by Preneel, has now set up a working group to “view the realization of an app”. And yes, this working group will make a note in the short term, normally by next week, “explaining the whole picture in all its aspects”. “The federal states can decide whether to start an app development effectively, It sounds like. Wait and see whether this will yield an app within “a few weeks”.

To follow: GEES experts meet with education ministers and unions to make decisions on education and youth.

  • The intention is over evaluate the case one week after reopening. The first week seems to have gone well: there were no major incidents, apart from a huge practical challenge for many schools.
  • The tension lies between the urge to bring the children back to school on the one hand, and the concern of the unions that everything is safe, and that staff don’t get infected, on the other hand.
  • One measure seems certain: students of the second and fourth secondary school are allowed to go to school again from Friday 29 May. The National Security Council had previously targeted this, but that is more than likely confirmed today.
  • But it could well be much more than just the second and fourth: virologically there is actually no objection for the youngest, preschoolers and children from primary education. Because it must be practically feasible, those children will probably have to go to school alternately: different groups every day. However, all the umbrella organizations insist that the pupils should still come and that the school year ends in beauty.
  • The unions have all kinds of objections. Because the meter and a half must be guaranteed, and bubbles may be a maximum of 14 students. And people complain about it the workload of both classroom teaching and pre-teaching and the additional childcare that is needed.
  • Also about the youth camps and playgrounds are today decided. The rules on how to go to camp will be determined by the Flemish government and Minister of Youth Benjamin Dalle (CD&V). The youth movements and other organizers craved clarity, but that decision was postponed as much as possible so as not to have to make a general cancellation. Now that the virus looks like it’s way back, now is the time to tie the knot.

Noted: MR-chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez clashes fiercely with journalists’ union about RTBF journalist who changed riots in Anderlecht.

  • Big consternation yesterday, about an incident of brutal street violence in Anderlecht, in which an agent was kicked a nose fracture and concussion. The police union VSOA, which is known to take strong positions at times, swung the video of that incident online: officers are kicked and beaten on the streets of Brussels.
  • Immediately, a political bomb exploded: the VSOA also wanted that deliberately. “What do you think, Pascal Smet (sp.a) and Benjamin Dalle (CD&V)? Should our colleagues have approached it differently? Was this a priority? ”
  • With this, the VSOA expresses the aversion within the police for the reaction of politicians to riots last month, in Kuregem, when a young man was killed in a police chase. This led to riots, in which Smet and his party One.Brussels, among others, faced the rioters. They then uttered criticism of the police actionand hearings will be held in the Brussels Parliament.
  • But it did not calm down: a week later there were riots in the Marolles, and there was the incident with a city councilor from Ecolo, that after a police check on her son because of corona measures on Facebook, the agents scolded for “Nazi” and “fascists”.
  • The VSOA video sparked predictable responses: just about every politician in Brussels condemned the violence in unison. In no way did anything seem right here, so the PS also lashed out at the rioters.
  • But another media riot arose: Sofia Cotsoglou, a journalist at the RTBF, lashed out on Twitter: “Since when has an article been written in the press based on only one version of the facts ?! By union authority! These images can just as easily say the exact opposite. ”
  • Among other things, N-VA Member of Parliament Mathias Vanden Borre praised: “Response from an RTBF journalist” adding “Ms Cotsoglou is the former spokeswoman for Ecolo’s party chairman“. Between 2011 and 2014, Cotsoglou did indeed work as a press spokesperson for Jean-Marc Nollet (Ecolo) on his cabinet.
  • But it was MR President Georges-Louis Bouchez who launched the frontal attack: “Can there be an explanation for the fact that police officers are beaten? The “saying the opposite”? That the police officers beat those involved? The accountability is the beginning of excuses. I hope this does not determine the editorial line at the RTBF, ”Bouchez lashed out at the journalist. She eventually took her tweet offline.
  • But the case got a tail. Martine Simonis, the secretary-general of the French-speaking journalists’ union, thought it necessary to intervene. “It’s time to understand that your position doesn’t allow you, in no way, to behave as a judge of journalistic work. The journalist association AJP recommends that you respect the freedom of expression of journalists. ” A striking response, which says a lot about the journalistic landscape in French-speaking Belgium.
  • The matter also moves politically. This morning Open Vld minister Sven Gatz on Radio 1 lashed out hard: “The VSOA is absolutely right. Some politicians in Brussels make it extra difficult for the police. (…) We may no longer have a police who still wants to go to those neighborhoods, ”said Gatz.
  • The Open VLD minister announces “a more in-depth conversation in the Brussels governmentAbout this. He also argued for “zero tolerance, that’s the right approach”. “Now the police are” tolerated “, when they show themselves in the neighborhoods, there is immediately a tension. That has to change. ”
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