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Bpost overcharged justice ministry for rent without detection

10:17 05/10/2023

Belgian postal service Bpost has been found to have massively overcharged the Belgian justice ministry for office rent, billing 12 times the agreed rate, in an administrative error that some MPs believe point to wider problems with Bpost's corporate culture.

When top management at Bpost found out that it was charging €100,000 per month for rent, instead of the agreed €100,000 per year, they did not disclose it, according to De Tijd.

The error came to public light when Bpost chairwoman Audrey Hanard made disclosures about suspected irregularities in the execution of three government contracts in order to calm the markets last week.

Those disclosures revealed that the government had overpaid for three services provided by the postal company: the processing of traffic fines, the management of 679 government bank accounts and the delivery and deletion of number plates.

Without going into details at the time, Hanard indicated that mistakes had also happened in charging rent for office space.

De Tijd uncovered that for two-and-a-half years, the ministry paid €1.2 million a year for offices in bpost's former headquarters, the Monnaie centre in downtown Brussels, when it should have been €100,000.

A price per square metre per year was provided, but when it was charged, the annual amount was input as the price per month - 12 times higher than the correct rent.

When the justice ministry moved to another bpost building in early 2022 for a much lower rent, the error was discovered at Bpost but not communicated to the ministry. Bpost's former chief executive Dirk Tirez was suspended last year.

The justice ministry did not detect the mistake or intervene during the two-and-a-half years of being overcharged. It has now given Bpost a formal notice and is asking for more information on the issue.

When asked about the lack of detection from the part of the justice ministry, a spokesperson said that “neither internal controls nor the Inspector of Finance had noted that the amounts were not in line with market rates”.

Hanard will have to explain the investigations in the federal parliament next week, and several MPs have said that they are worried that the issue is only the tip of the iceberg, believing that the bad practices observed are part of a corporate culture and that it will be difficult to regain the public's trust.

“There is a cultural problem that has spread over several years and several legislatures,” Eva Platteau (Groen) said, pointing out that 14 Bpost employees who were dismissed for involvement in bad practices is no small group.

Meanwhile, the justice ministry is still renting office space from Bpost at Brussels-North station.

“This is done in accordance with the agreements in the management agreement,” said a spokesperson.

Written by Helen Lyons