Flemish MP's latest sick note triggers controversy

The Flemish MP Sihame El Kaouakibi hasn't attended a parliamentary session since mid-October last year, citing mental problems after ending up in a fraud investigation. However, her wage remains intact. It also turns out to be complicated to send a doctor to check on her illness.  

The liberal MP El Kaouakibi ended up in a storm last year amidst allegations of fraud with her non-profit dance project 'Let's Go Urban' in Antwerp, where she allegedly used public subsidies for personal projects. Her party 'Open VLD' dropped her and El Kaouakibi is said to be going through mentally rough times. 

The MP recently handed in a new sick note for the month of November. This has sparked controversy,  because Flemish MP's keep their full salary during a long period of illness - contrary to 'normal' employees. A Flemish MP can count on 5,000 to 6,000 euros after tax each month. 

In theory, the people decide

Some even claim the sick note is a fake one, suggesting the MP is not really ill. It is hard to check, because Flemish MP's enjoy a special status, the VRT's political pundit Ivan De Vadder explains. "MP's represent the people in Parliament, but they are not employed by Parliament.  So the question is who can send a doctor to check about the illness? You could say that in theory, the people should do that, but an election would have to be organised in that case. This is how democracy works." 

"There is no contract"

The Flemish Parliament is considering to send a doctor to El Kaouakibi's home, and has asked for technical legal advice to do so. De Vadder underlines that MP's only lose salary if they miss plenary votings. "If you would miss 20 percent of these votings, you would lose 10 percent. If you miss 30 percent, you lose 20 percent." He points out that there are quite some MP's who just turn up for plenary votings. "There is no contract. The only check will be done by the voters in the next elections." 

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