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Court orders the Mykolaiv City Council to provide a journalist with information on the Mayor's salary

13.04.2023, 11:02

The Mykolaiv District Administrative Court obliged the Mykolaiv City Council to provide Oksana Orsach, a reporter at the "NikCenter" Investigative Journalism Center, with the information she had previously requested regarding the salaries, bonuses, and other additional payments received by Mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych, his deputies and assistants in 2022.

The court issued such a ruling on April 11, reports the IMI representative in Mykolaiv oblast.

On January 19, Oksana Orsach contacted to the Mykolaiv City Council, requesting data on the city officials' salaries, but the City Council withheld the information from her, citing the martial law as the reason.

The court stated that the information about the salaries of local self-government officials is public and access to it cannot be restricted. And martial law as such cannot be a reason for withholding or delaying the provision of public data.

"The defendant postponed the deadline for providing information until the end of the force majeure circumstances – the martial law in Ukraine. However, he did not explain how the introduction of martial law in Ukraine had made providing the requested information technically impossible," the court's ruling reads.

In the course of the litigation, a City Council representative tried to explain the delay in providing public information with the loss of the workplace computer where the relevant data was allegedly stored. The payroll of City Council employees is also kept on paper, and no documents have been reported missing.

The court ordered the Mykolayiv City Council to provide the journalist with the requested data immediately.

In her comment to an IMI represenataive, journalist Oksana Orsach said that the publication was preparing a report on how the work of the executive committee chair and department heads of the Mykolaiv City Council was being paid for during the war, whether they were receiving bonuses and material aid.

"However, our numerous requests were ignored: both in the departments themselves and in the City Council at large. It's funny that one of their 'excuses' for not responding was that we 'sent the request to the Mykolaiv City Council' and not to the 'Executive Committee of the Mykolaiv City Council'. This has become a systemic problem, the City Council was obviously not going to disclose the salary data," she said.

The journalist filed a lawsuit with the help of Human Rights Platform lawyers. "For this case, we chose the request about the salaries and bonuses of the Mayor, his deputies and assistants. The court decided that the martial law as such is not a valid reason to withhold public information from journalists. The judge did not take into account the explanation of the City Council representatives, who said that the requested data were allegedly stored on a computer that was missing. We hope that this case will also help other reporters to get access to public information, because now there are more cases when officials simply use the martial law in the country as an excuse not to provide answers to requests," said Oksana Orsach.

The journalist noted that she has not yet received any response to the court's decision from the City Council.

"So far, we have not seen any response from the City Council, either to the court's decision or to the reports on nearly 3 million hryvnias worth of equipment having gone missing from the City Hall, as it turned out during the litigation. We are waiting for them to provide us with the requested data, or else will try to file an appeal," said Oksana Orsach.

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