Ensuring the public has access to information about the pandemic of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 is of critical importance. It is of vital importance that people take decisions on the basis of reliable information. The local authorities responsible for the safety and security of citizens during an epidemic, via enquiries from the public and their official websites, are such trusted sources of information.
For this reason, the regional network of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights performed a check on how local authorities are publishing information about protective measures against COVID-19, and how they reply to the requests for information.
On 24-30 March, 2020 the regional network conducted a survey of access to public information in all oblasts of Ukraine. Regional coordinators assessed the work of 74 holders of public information, specifically Oblast Councils, City Councils at the Oblast level, and Oblast State Administrations. During the monitoring survey, they sent 74 requests for access to public information and analysed the replies. They also checked 74 official websites of local authorities and filled in nearly 150 evaluation forms.
According to the Law of Ukraine of Access to Public Information, there are two ways to ensure access to information: 1) timely and systematically publish information 2) provide information on request.
All requests for information were submitted to the information holders according to Parts 2-3 of Article 20 of the Law of Ukraine of Access to Public Information. This meant that the monitors were requesting urgent access to information – within 48 hours of the request being received.
“The survey found that information holders mostly publish information about protective measures against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) systematically and on time,” said Tetiana Oleksiyuk, a UNDP in Ukraine expert on access to public information, commenting on the results of the survey.
“However, some information holders should take measures to improve access to information, considering that citizens need comprehensive and reliable information about the measures that local authorities are taking against the epidemic of coronavirus disease,” the expert stressed.
“The local authorities should publish this information without delay.”
The survey produced three recommendations for local authorities for the timely publishing of information and providing access to information:
1. Information holders, state authorities and local governments during the quarantine period must ensure requests for public information can be submitted at all times by email. Email addresses for making requests must be published on the official websites so that everyone can easily find them.
2. It is necessary to organize work of public officials and divisions responsible for access to public information in such way that they can process requests and provide access to information in a timely manner. Replies to the requests should be:
- Submitted on an official form with the letterhead of the information holder, and with the registration number and signature of the responsible person;
- Sent from an official email address for requests for access to public information, or from the official email of the information holder.
3. Regulatory and normative acts on protective measures against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) must be immediately published on official websites. Information holders must publish full texts of these normative acts, mentioning the date when they were adopted, and their registration number. Plans of protective measures and details of where to request additional information must be published too. Easy navigation of the website is also important.
Check the full text of the results of the survey of access to public information on protective measures against the novel coronavirus disease here.
The monitoring survey of access to public information on protective measures against the novel coronavirus disease was done by the regional network of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights with the support of the Human Rights for Ukraine (HR4U) project, which is being implemented in 2019-2023 by the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine, with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.