The Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety is Obliged to Provide Information regarding Inspections and Their Results Carried out at the Facilities of the "Ekoravnovesie" Municipal Enterprise, Regardless of the Disagreement of the Municipal Enterprise.
On March 13, 2023, a decision was issued by the Sofia City Administrative Court in a case supported by Access to Information Programme against a decision of the Executive Director of the Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety to deny access to information requested by Marta Georgieva, a municipal councilor in the Sofia Municipal Council.
In her request, Marta Georgieva asked about access to information related to Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety inspections carried out over a period of one year at the facilities managed by the "Ecoravnovesie" Municipal Enterprise including orders, acts, and penalties imposed as a result of those inspections, as well as protocols and orders from subsequent controls.
The Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety refused to provide the information, claiming that "Ecoravnovesie" is a third party within the meaning of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) and has explicitly objected to the disclosure of the information.
With the help of lawyer Stefan Angelov from AIP, Marta Georgieva contested the decision. In its decision, the court found that no assessment had been made of the overriding public interest, and "this omission alone is sufficient to justify the unlawfulness of the refusal." In addition, the judge emphasized the rule that the consent of a third party is not required for the provision of information when it is an obligated subject under the APIA and the information concerned is public (Article 31, para. 5 of the APIA). In this case, the "Ecoravnovesie" Municipal Enterprise precisely because it is a municipal enterprise, is not an independent obligated subject under the APIA, as it is not a legal entity. It is a secondary authority of budgetary resources, and its budget is approved by a decision of the Sofia Municipal Council, within the framework of the approved overall budget of the Sofia Municipality. "Ecoravnovesie" is part of the Sofia Municipality structure. The municipality is the obligated subject. And if public information is requested regarding the activities of the municipal enterprise, it should be requested from the municipality.
The judge concludes that "since there are no legal grounds for the decision to be issued, it should be annulled, and the correspondence returned to the director of the Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety for a new decision, in which – without seeking of any consent – the denied public information should be provided within the prescribed period." The decision is final.
"Within a few weeks, the Administrative Court Sofia City issues a second decision, clearly and directly stating that since a municipal enterprise is not a legal entity and is not an obligated subject under the APIA, it cannot be considered a third party within the meaning of the law. Municipal enterprises cannot serve as an obstacle to the transparency throughout the Municipality," commented lawyer Stefan Angelov, AIP.