ACF Wins Court Case for Access to Public Information Against BFSA

Тhe Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) has been instructed by court to provide information related to the work of mobile animal waste incinerators.

With a judgment from 18 December 2019, delivered to ACF yesterday 14 January 2020, the Sofia-City Administrative Court repealed the refusal of BFSA to provide access to public information concerning the reported monthly quantities of animal waste handled by the incinerators. The agency will also have to disclose the monthly fees paid to the incineration firms Sin Krast EOOD and Eko BG SJP EOOD.

The court has rejected as entirely unsubstantiated BFSA’s arguments that the requested information was confidential commercial information and its disclosure would lead to unfair competition. Furthermore, BFSA have violated the Access to Public Information Act by failing to address the question of whether there was an overriding public interest in the disclosure of the information. Instead, BFSA required ACF to prove the existence of such interest in blatant contravention of the relevant legal provisions.

In addition, the court was adamant that BFSA did not have to request the incinerator firms’ permission to disclose the information before determining the existence of an overriding public interest. In the event public interest exists, the information must be provided regardless of the firm’s permission or lack thereof.

The court case and ACF’s access to public information request are part of a joint investigation by ACF and journalist Genka Shikerova. In August 2019, the investigation revealed evidence of numerous violations of the Public Procurement Act, as a result of which BGN 30 mln. were unlawfully expended in the period 2018-2019. Contracts worth another BGN 30 mln. were concluded for 2020, justified by the aggravated epizootic in the country, comprising of plague affecting small ruminant animals, African plague affecting pigs, and bird flu. At the same time, there is no evidence that the incinerators were used during any of the specified epidemic outbreaks.

ACF has already referred the case to the Public Financial Inspection Agency which is currently investigating BFSA.

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