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Zaporizhzhia City Council suggests journalists print the Budget Code at their own expense

08.04.2024, 17:27

The Education and Science Department of the Zaporizhzhia City Council refused to provide Zaporizhia Center of Investigations (ZCI) journalists with information about the the local school meal prices almost tripling. Instead, the journalists were offered to have the Budget Code printed for 1,590 hryvnias.

The representative of the Institute of Mass Information in the Zaporizhia oblast was informed of the situation by Serhiy Sydorov, the head of the Zaporizhia Center of Investigations.

After the backlash, the City Council announced a press conference on child meals and later mailed a free electronic copy of the state budget along with the documents that the investigators had requested.

According to Serhiy Sidorov, they sent the request on March 14. The investigators were asking for the documents on the spike in the prices for children's lunches during the time when schools and kindergartens were closed following the start of Russia's full-scale aggression. The journalists had learned that the city's executive committee passed several decisions during this time, which resulted in the 2021 price of one meal almost tripling – the increase was 280%.

In their request, the journalists asked for a copy of the explanatory note to the draft decision on increasing the price of meals, as well as documents where the price of school lunches is calculated, the need to raise the prices and the reasons for the increase are explained, as well as the background for the decision, the financial and economic indicators and comparisons (namely the minutes from the meetings of the permanent deputy committee on education, science, culture, sports, youth and tourism, which discussed the 2021–2024 meal prices).

On April 3, the journalists received a reply which said that, having processed the request, the officials "could not understand the purpose requesting the information in question, the method of its distribution and the circle of persons to whom the information is to be distributed."

The reply signed by the department's deputy director Oleksiy Fursa also said that "the requester has not substantiated that the requested information is of public interest." The journalists were sent the first 10 pages of Ukraine's 2024 State Budget and an offer to scan the remaining 525 pages for a fee, at 3 hryvnias per page, with an invoice for UAH 1,590 included. The journalists reported on this on the media outlet's website on April 4.

The reply sent by the Zaporizhzhia City Council to the Zaporizhia Center of Investigations. Photo by the ZCI

"I am really surprised by such non-replies. We report on officials critically but appropriately and without manipulation. Quite often the departments call me and other journalists to clarify what exactly we need. And it's not hard for us to give the clarifications or even send an updated request. And here they cannot answer us why the Zaporizhzhia school meals are more expensive by a large margin than in other cities. I appreciate a good joke, but not when the situation is about a 75 million tender deal," Serhiy Sydorov commented.

On April 5, when the news about the denied request were released, the city authorities held a press conference on the price of the Zaporizhzhia school lunches. During the press conference the department's deputy director Oleksandr Zayika, informed the ZCI journalists that the issue of school lunches had gained public interest, so the information would be provided to them in full for free.

ZCI director Serhiy Sydorov confirmed receiving a 535-page digital reply on the same day. The first 480 pages were indeed the 2024 state budget and another 50 pages were the documents requested by the journalists.

Institute of Mass Information lawyer Roman Holovenko noted that the Law "On Access to Public Information" does not say that the person filing a request should specify the purpose of filing it or the methods of distributing the information in question. The law does not authorize the information holder to ask for these details, therefore they cannot demand them, as stated in the requirements of the Part 2 of Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine. The information received upon request can be distributed freely (Part 2 of Article 4 of the same law), the lawyer said.

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