In August 2012, Lviv city NGO “Lviv press-club” referring to the Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” sent two information requests to Lviv municipal enterprise “Lvivvodokanal” asking about enterprises which concluded agreements with Lvivvodokanal about joining the municipal sewage system and additional purification of norm-exceeding waste waters, amounts of these waters and costs of extra purification.
Lviv municipal enterprise “Lvivvodokanal” refused to provide information to the questions arguing that it not an authority body and is not obliged to release information. It also stated that the information on conclusion of agreements about processing norm-exceeding amounts of waste waters is confidential.
Such an answer and refusal to provide information are unlawful and violate current legislation of Ukraine on free access to environmental information and legislation on public information.
First of all not only authorities are obliged to release information. The prohibition for anybody (not only authorities) to keep in secret environmental information is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine. The Law of Ukraine “On Environmental Protection” envisages the obligation to release such information for enterprises, institutions, organizations causing impact on the environment regardless of their form of ownership. The Aarhus Convention, which is part of the national legislation, puts such an obligation on any physical or legal entity performing public functions and duties or providing to population environment-related services under control of public authority.
According to the Law of Ukraine “On Local Self-governance in Ukraine”, solution of issues related to water supply and purification of waste water belongs to authority of village and city councils. Lviv city council realizes this authority through Lviv municipal enterprise “Lvivvodokanal”, that was founded by the city council on community lands and is subordinated and accountable to it.
Therefore, this enterprise is subject to provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Environmental Protection” and the Aarhus Convention in terms of the obligation to release environmental information at request.
Moreover, in May 2011 the new Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” came into force. This law is meant to ensure transparency and openness of public authorities, and envisages a mechanism of realization of the right for everybody to access information.
This law is not limited to authorities. Also persons having delegated obligations of public authorities including provision of educational, health-protecting, social and other state services are regarded by this law as disposers of information. These are obligations that were delegated to and are currently performed by “Lvivvodokanal”. Moreover, the Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” develops provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Environmental Protection” because all subjects of economic activity possessing environmental information are regarded as disposers of information. This means the law transposes the mechanism of “submitting an information request and getting an answer to it” to legal relationship between the society and private units whose activity impacts our environment.
Environment-People-Law (EPL) has won many court cases on access to environmental information. In 2001 EPL challenged the refusal to provide information by state community enterprise “Brodyvodokanal” and after considering the case and the legislation the court recognized that Brodyvodokanal was obliged to provide a reply to EPL’ request and thus its refusal to provide information was unlawful.
On 30 August 2012, Lviv economic court considered our suit challenging the refusal to provide information by a private enterprise and confirmed applicability of the Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information” to challenged legal relationship and obliged the enterprise to provide EPL with requested information.