The fact that Sihame El Kaouakibi is extending her sick leave – with full pay – until the beginning of December once again raises questions about the status of a Flemish Member of Parliament. ‘Parliament is not the employer of a representative of the people.’
‘Tired, powerless and sad, I close the door behind me. The light goes out for good.’ With these words, Sihame El Kaouakibi reacted at the end of April to the decision of the city of Antwerp to end the collaboration with the youth project Let’s Go Urban. Since then, her Instagram profile has remained silent.
Not only on social media, but also in real life, the fallen politician shrouds herself in silence. El Kaouakibi has not been spotted in Brussels since October last year. She still occupies her seat in the Flemish Parliament – which she won in the elections of May 2019 as a ‘white rabbit’ for Open VLD – as an independent member of parliament, but she no longer does parliamentary work. Its most recent proposal for a resolution dates from June 10, 2020.
- Earlier this month, Independent MP Sihame El Kaouakibi filed a sick note until the end of November.
- The fallen politician has not been seen in the Flemish Member of Parliament since October last year, but keeps her full salary.
- The Flemish Parliament is investigating whether a check-up doctor can visit, although such an intervention is not obvious.
Although the founder of the bankrupt dance project Let’s Go Urban can justify her absence with a sick note, the new extension has been met with criticism. In the coming months, El Kaouakibi will continue to receive her monthly salary of more than 4,400 euros and the associated expense allowance of 1,240 euros, as well as an end-of-year bonus and holiday pay. By way of comparison: an employee from the private sector falls back on benefits after one month of incapacity for work.
Except for the Vlaams Belang, which calls in a press release to curb the wages of El Kaouakibi, the other parties react with restraint. “But make no mistake: there is a great hunger in the hemisphere to do something about this situation,” says a Flemish Member of Parliament, pointing to the appointment of law firm Monard Law. The extensive office of the Flemish Parliament appointed this Antwerp company before the summer recess to check whether a check-up doctor can visit El Kaouakibi.
If a medical examiner finds any abuse, part of El Kaouakibi’s compensation may be withheld. However, the advice from Monard Law, which was not available for comment, about the deployment of such a doctor is at least two weeks away. ‘It doesn’t surprise me that a specialized agency needs two months to see how intervention can be taken. It is a complex matter’, says constitution specialist Toon Moonen.
The UGent professor emphasizes that we cannot simply extend the rules for employees. ‘There is no employment relationship between the MP and the parliament in which he sits. A representative of the people derives his status from an election and not from an employment contract.’ The parliament can therefore exercise little authority, because El Kaouakibi is primarily accountable to the citizens who have elected it.
That doesn’t mean it’s completely powerless. ‘Parliamentary assemblies have regulations governing their operation. If those rules are not sufficiently clear, the MPs can revise them,’ says Moonen. For example, the political parties have been trying for years to find a consensus about limiting the controversial and generous retirement allowances in parliaments.
Still, it seems that this case is moving faster. El Kaouakibi’s expense allowance can be cut, because it covers ‘all costs associated with the exercise of the mandate’. The reasoning is then: anyone who is sick at home does not work and does not need that compensation.