Two Flemish government agencies, Havenbedrijf Antwerpen (Port of Antwerp) and Flanders Investment & Trade, refused to disclose information on the 3 billion euro plastics plant that INEOS intends to build in Antwerp, Belgium. But the official transparency watchdog insists on more transparency.
Following an appeal of environmental organisation Recycling Netwerk Benelux, the Flemish transparency watchdog (Beroepsinstantie openbaarheid van bestuur) ruled that the port of Antwerp and Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) should disclose information on the future plant, unless they can prove that there is a legal exemption.
Related: The Guardian, Ineos may have to disclose secret details of £2.6bn Antwerp project, May 3, 2019
On February 15th, Recycling Netwerk Benelux requested copies of all information on the development of the new plastic plant in the port of Antwerp. The environmental organisation wants to gain insight in the environmental and climate problems that can be caused by the new plant. It also wants to know what fiscal and other promises the Flemish authorities made to convince Ineos to invest in Antwerp.
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) refused on March 4th, and The Port of Antwerp on March 8th, to give any copies to Recycling Netwerk. Recycling Netwerk appealed the decision and asked the transparency watchdog called Beroepsinstantie voor openbaarheid van bestuur, a Flemish government agency as well, to look into the matter.
The transparency watchdog ruled on April 23th that FIT and Port of Antwerp should release all documents, unless they specify for each document why it should be exempted. The text of the watchdog decision reveals that there are at least 500 documents of which it is unclear if the denial of access was legitimate.
Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) even refused to show more than 1 document to the transparency watchdog. The watchdog ruled that the appeal of Recycling Netwerk is justified for all the other documents. As FIT has been working for years on this deal, it is likely that there are hundreds of documents that contain relevant information and should be considered for disclosure.
The text of the decision of the watchdog shows that used some inappropriate arguments to defend their refusal to release documents. The Flemish government agency FIT argued that “(the petrochemical) sector is under pressure, amongst other things from the viewpoint of durability (…) And because of this FIT pleads for restraint regarding requests of transparency concerning this Ineos-file.”
In other words: the government agency FIT basically argues that they do not want to be transparent because it concerns a potentially polluting industry. “From a government agency in the 21st century, in full climate crisis, we would expect precisely the opposite attitude”, comments Recycling Netwerk.
Secondly FIT argues that “considering the investment of 3 billion euro (…) they are reacting with restraint to requests for transparency.”
In other words, this government agency states: the bigger the investment, the less willing they are to be transparent about the investment.
Given the decision of the transparency watchdog, Recycling Netwerk will continue asking the port authority and FIT to release all information regarding the procedure. “The gigantic plastic plant of Ineos in Antwerp will probably have a huge impact on the environment and the climate. These decisions should be allowed to be part of a societal and political debate. We expect from these Flemish government agencies to be fully transparent on the decision process that led to the declaration of intent with Ineos. Unfortunately, up until now, FIT has used one argument after another, trying to keep all documents secret”, Recycling Netwerk Benelux concludes.