Saturday, 10 February 2007

When Damocles' sword is floating in the air

Laurette Onkelinx, the Belgian (Walloon) socialist minister of Justice (although socialism and justice are two conceptions that are as contradictory as water and fire) was this week's entertainer on the Belgian political Muppet Show. She caused a lot of upheaval (something she may cause very well...) after the launch of a new ministrial bill proposed at last Thursday's ministerial conference.

The bill of Ms Onkelinx intends to refine the law of 4 May 1999, which regulates the penal responsibility of legal persons such as enterprises and foundations. According to the law of 1999, legal persons as a whole can be judged after they commit a crime, and not only natural persons. But the so-called 'refinements' of Ms Onkelinx are just disastrous.

Her proposition states that enterprises who are condemned for a serious offence after already having a fine of €132,000 (i.e. a second judgement), should be closed for a period of 1 up to 10 years. According to the existing law of 1999, judges already can close down an enterprise for the same period, but only when an enterprise commits an offence against one particular kind of legislation. For example: when a producer of washing-powder disgorges his chemical waste in a nearby river, and causes serious harm to the environment, he could be seriously fined (and the reason why he could be fined is due to the fact that according environmental law chemical waste should be collected separately). And when he gets fined another time for the same reason, the judge can decide to close down his enterprise. But to Ms Onkelinx' opinion, it must be more 'easy' to close down enterprises: when an enterprise commits an offence against environmental law, and a second time against, let's say social law, he also risks to be closed down!

And together with a second aspect of Ms Onkelinx' proposition, the bill may become a fatally cocktail. This second aspect is called the 'decumulation of responsibility' in juridicial words. In fact, her propostion wants to end this decumulation. The 'decumulation of responsibility' means the following: when an offence is commited, it is always done by a natural person. Let's take again the example of the washing-powder producer: it's not "the company" - which is a legal person - that disgorges his chemicals, as the company doesn't have hands or feet to construct the pipeline to the river. The works need to be done by a natural person; a man (or woman) who has got hands, who can breathe and who can feel. When the offence is established, the judge can only prosecute the person who has commited the most serious crime: if the board of directors gave its direct permission to construct the pipeline, it will be the legal person who'll be prosecuted. But maybe the man who constructed the pipeline was just an employee at the company who wanted to take revenge after his best shirts shrunk due to the company's washing-powder. In that case the natural person will be prosecuted. Ms Onkelinx wants to end this principle of decumulation: both the legal and the natural person will be prosecuted, if there's a clear link between both persons. This means that legal persons will have more the risk to be judged because of faults made by individuals. And this isn't fair at all.

When this proposed bill would become law, starting or leading an enterprise in Belgium will be a hard game to play. Not only the risk that your company will be closed down will increase, but it will be harder to borrow money from a bank. Which banker would want to lend you some money when your company already received a serious fine, and risks to be closed between this and an early time? No one.

The fact that Ms Onkelinx' bill would be a bad thing doesn't mean that companies should go their way unpunished when that commit a crime. But there still a difference between a reasonable - though stern - penalty, and capital punishment (closing down an enterprise). The bill doesn't take any account of the possible social consequences of a closing-down: what about the employees, who'll be on the dole for one or more years? It proves again that socialistic anti-capitalistic enmity is the absolute goal to strive for, and this enmity even prevails over the jobs of thousands of people. Another reason why socialism is one of the worst ailments in society.

Astonishing is also the attitude of Belgium's prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who's member of the Flemish Liberal Party. As a liberal (in its 19th century meaning), Mr Verhofstadt should completely reject this proposition. And it's also what he did Thursday morning. But in the afternoon, when some interrogations about the matter were planned in the federal Chamber of Representatives, he completely turned his mind as an ordinary weathercock. He defended Ms Onkelinx' propostion with fire and passion, and sneered at the christian-democratic opposition (because it was under christian-democratic reign that the first responsibility act established in 1999). The reason? It seemed that the king, who is the head of state in Belgium, already signed the bill (without the prime minister knowing it!), which means that the ministrial conference reshape the bill. The signature of the king doesn't mean that the bill will become law however: now it is up to the parliament to discuss the matter and whether or not to reject it. Which we'll hope they will.

With his attitude, Mr Verhofstadt proved again that he's no more or less than the butler of the Walloon socialists. Socialists, and Walloon socialists in particular, still see enterprises as an enemy of the "working class" which must be teased as much as possible. And when such a "fat and capitalist" enterprise got fined, it means a financial gain for the state budget. And with this extra gain, the (socialist) government can "invest" more money in our sluggish and wicked social insecurity system. And when there flows more money to social security, the people will be happy because the government grants it each month a fee. And then the people will vote for socialst candidates who can reinforce their power and at the same time play for Santa Claus. And this is how Wallonia - the French-speaking South of Belgium - currently works: unemployment stands at an incredible rate of 18% and almost 40% of the working people works for the government (education, administration,...). And at the same time, the Socialist Party is the biggest one in Wallonia. And the reason why the socialist minister Onkelinx can pass through such a malicious piece of legislation is due to the fact that the larger part of privately-owned companies is located in Flanders. And in Flanders, the Walloon Socialists don't have to seek after votes.

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