|All the best for children? Or what Melitopol preschoolers get fed
19 November 2014 14:00 | Author: Lyubov CHAYKA
There are 26 kindergartens in Melitopol and all are overfilled. Every fifth family has a preschool age child. This city pays only half of the cost for children’s food in kindergartens. The second half is covered by parents. They believe that their children receive high quality, balanced breakfasts and lunches for that money.
Repentance frees from responsibility
Last year in spring everybody was discussing the topic of food in Melitopol kindergartens. At that time, it became known that instead of butter children were given butter substitute spreads for the price of high quality dairy products. The media made a big fuss, law enforcement started looking for who was guilty and the prosecutor took up the case. So what happened? Butter substitute spreads were removed from children’s meal plans, which deprived children of butter for over half a year. But they did not find any guilty parties.
After a pretty long investigation, the prosecutor registered in the Single Registry an incident of criminal activity, but for some reason it was classified under articles 358 (document fraud), 15 (attempt to commit a crime) and 180 (fraud). In this way, law enforcement only found fraud involving documents, but the fact that children had been eating a product that was prohibited from being part of children’s meal plans was not a problem at all. Even more interesting is that already in July the prosecutor requested that the plaintiff be free of criminal responsibility under the aforementioned articles regardless of the fact that the person that committed fraud on so many documents was not even an officially registered entrepreneur, but just wanted to feed children very much (meaning – make money off of children). He was freed thanks to his “effective repentance” (Author: Do you think he replaced all butter spread with butter at his own expense? No. He only expressed regret and denounced his own behavior.). The court granted this request considering the fact that “there were no victims of the crimes and no damage caused.” Nobody cared about the children.
Of course, this result from the case made us come back to the issue of food for our children. It appeared that there were more than enough questions about it.
Summer products for winter prices
According to information from the city’s education department, potatoes are sold to kindergartens at UAH 4.5/kg. This is the price for this product according to an agreement with the winner of a tender, businessman Yu. M. Iotov. This was at the time when wholesale markets were selling this product in season for UAH 2.5-2.8/kg. There is a similar situation with other seasonal vegetables: onions cost kindergartens UAH 5/kg (vs. wholesale price: UAH 2.7/kg) and carrots cost UAH 3.5/kg (vs. UAH 1.7-2.0/kg).
Ihor Sudakov, deputy head of the education department and head of the tender committee, explained that the tender for the purchase of these products and others was announced in December of last year, just like the law requires. The tender is conducted once a year. Changes in prices for the products can take place only in rare cases when the market price for this product changes by more than 10% in accordance with part 5, article 40 of the Law of Ukraine “On Conducting State Purchases.” However, in the city’s education department they reassure that the price for the products does not exceed the average market prices in Zaporizhya region.
“Every month we track the average prices in the region according to references from the regional statistics department,” said I. Sudakov. “And we do not purchase products whose prices exceed the average statistical indicator.”
Moreover, the city’s education department emphasized the fact that products from the market are not suitable for children’s meals since very often sellers do not have enough documentation and quality compliance certificates (Author: Even though all of the city’s markets should have laboratories that are supposed to prevent the sale of low quality products). Large supermarket chains cannot be suppliers of food either, even though they offer very low, sometimes even discounted prices, for seasonal products. In season, potatoes cost UAH 2.49-2.99/kg, onions – UAH 2.49/kg and carrots – UAH 1.55/kg. The problem is that supermarket chains do not participate in tenders.
“The city’s education department cannot invite participants to bid in tenders since the department’s staff can be charged with corruption for doing so,” explained I. Sudakov. “Whoever applies to participate can participate. All tender procedures are conducted openly. We would be very happy to work with supermarket chains.”
The city’s education department blames the current system for the situation. The tender is announced in December for the entire following year, but if this procedure was more flexible it would be possible to react to changes in market prices, thinks I. Sudakov. He also confirmed that they addressed to higher level institutions with a request to simplify the law on state purchases. But there was no result.
A big question about quality
If we understand officials from the city’s education department literally, then we are paying for vegetables for our children at a higher price in order to receive a guaranteed level of quality. However, there is a problem in that statement too.
We decided not to check all products, but randomly picked only one – carrots. This seasonal vegetable was sent for testing to the state laboratory, the Melitopol Division of the Chief Department of the Zaporizhya Regional Laboratory Center of the State Sanitary-Epidemiological Service. They did find nitrates – 275 mg/kg – but wrote a resolution stating “the investigation demonstrated that the product does not exceed the allowed norm – 400 mg/kg.” However, the experts forgot to specify that this amount was the maximum level for adults, while the level for children is 50 mg/kg.
The result of the test from the laboratory of the Sanitary-Epidemiological Service was laid on the table of Ihor Eliseyev, head of the city’s education department, together with a rotten carrot from one of the kindergartens. Here, we give credit to him since he created a committee (consisting of even journalists from MV) to check the quality of supplied products. We went to kindergartens three times to get samples. Three different laboratories provided results from tests: two city laboratories and one at the Zaporizhya Scientific-Production Center for Standardization, Metrology and Certification. For the city’s education department, this was a matter of pride. But all three expert organizations gave different results: from an outlier of 50.5 to an extreme of 870 mg/kg. As a result, the city’s education department decided to refuse such suspicious products. Note that this was only one item of all of the supplied products that were checked “at the highest level.” Where is the guarantee that the rest are not bad either?
Back to butter
Since all of the fuss started with butter, we could not skip paying attention to this product. This year in the tender there were three potential suppliers, but according to information from the city’s education department, the bid from businessman V.S. Korotkih was the most attractive.
However, in reality this businessman is not a producer of butter and does not even work directly with a producer. “For us, it was not a requirement that butter producers themselves participate in the tender,” said Ihor Sudakov, head of the tender committee.
Ihor Sudakov and Ihor Eliseyev (at the head of the table) answer journalists’ questions
((Video summary: The official says that as part of the tender procedures they only check the documents on supplied products and do not send samples of actual products for testing. The documents on the butter were all in compliance with state norms.))
So it turned out that the winner of the tender to supply products was a third or even fifth level intermediary. It became clear that V. Korotkiy supplied butter to kindergartens in our city from his warehouse (this fact was revealed by officials from the Chief Police Department on Fighting Economic Crimes) at 39 Dzerzhinskoho Street. This butter is supplied to this warehouse by Zaporizhya businessman S. Kirillov. Whether the latter works directly with producers or not is unknown. But this does not bother the head of the tender committee. “Most important is that we receive all permits, that the butter complies with state standards, and contains no less than 72.5% fat, all of which was fulfilled as part of the tender.” The businessman promised to supply butter at UAH 56.6/kg.
Where is the butter from?
As part of the bid, the businessman provided results from sanitary-epidemiological tests and a quality certificate from the proposed product, Donya sweet butter from producer Product of Ukraine Ltd.
When the agreement was signed, the producer did not raise any suspicion – it was a normal, small plant in Horlivka, Donetsk region. But now that Donbass is within the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone, there is big doubt about whether the enterprise is working and will continue to supply its products in regular amounts. When we checked, nobody answered phone calls to this company or to any of the departments at the Donetsk Regional Administration that could have told us about this enterprise. The Ministry of Agricultural Policy avoided direct answers, claiming that they had thousands of similar enterprises and could not keep track of all of them and sent us back to the regional level.
MV journalists wrote down all of our suspicions regarding the supplied dairy products (we cannot call it butter) and sent it to the city police department. Law enforcement took a few weeks to carry out checkups of the stated claims and found out that V. Korotkiy did not personally supply the butter. He only purchased it from intermediary S.D. Kirillov. Korotkiy, the winner of the tender, did not really care where his intermediary got the butter as long as the documents were in order. But, just like you already know, he had all of the documents and did not raise any suspicion. When we asked about the fact of the supply of butter from Horlivka, they simply answered that according to S. Kirillov the plant moved from Horlivka to Mariupol. The city’s education department and kindergartens do not have any complaints about the product (Author: of course, children cannot stand up for their rights, parents are not allowed in the kitchens and kindergarten cooks are afraid of losing their jobs). Therefore, it does not make any sense to continue checking further into the product, concluded the police.
It ended up being a very one-sided checkup. They talked to the interested parties, looked through the papers and that was it. So where are the results of the tests on the butter? Why didn’t anyone contact the plant that produces it? Did they just believe their words? After everything, the Horlivka butter stopped coming to the kindergartens. It was replaced with Selyanske sweet butter from Bohodukhiv Dairy Plant Ltd. The city’s education department made a point that the producer of the butter didn’t matter as long as it complied with state standards.
The officials do not check the reputation of the enterprise that supplies products to the kindergartens. These checks are not required by legislation. However, we decided to “go around the law” and ask Google what it knew about the Bohodukhiv Dairy Plant. We did not search for long. On just the first pages there were titles of stories about how the enterprise “cheated customers,” “will be fined for UAH 3 million,” and “was charged with unfair competition by the Anti-Monopoly Committee of Ukraine (Bohodukhiv Dairy Plant, LLC).
Customer product reviews describe the low quality of butter and dairy products
And here are the opinions of local citizens in a Bohodukhiv forum:
Questionable reputation, don’t you think? But officials have an excuse for it. “If the Anti-Monopoly Committee fines the enterprise, then why do they let this plant work on the market? Why do they allow its products to continue to be supplied? So these are the real questions.” Thus, again, it is not their fault, but somebody else’s.
Representatives of the Bohodukhiv plant have no idea that their products are being supplied to Melitopol kindergartens. They do not work directly with businessman Korotkiy and are not even sure that they cooperate with anyone from Zaporizhya. As a result, there is no guarantee that our kindergarteners are eating butter from that very plant. Therefore, there is nothing more to discuss.
((Video summary: The reporter receives information from the Bohodukhiv plant that they do not do business with Korotkikh and a detailed description on how their packaging of butter looks.))
The candidacy of the businessman that won the tender to supply butter is questionable as well. According to information on the website of the open database on state purchasing, V.S. Korotkiy has a very short tender history.
He signed his first deal in 2013 to supply butter and then three more in March 2014 to supply butter and vegetables. In all of those cases, the client was the city of Melitopol’s education department, while the total cost of the purchases reached UAH 2.4 million. According to I. Sudakov, the department has an obligation to check whether the businessman has experience with supplying similar products. “In the documents required for the competition for the tender, it said that businessmen have to provide one copy of an agreement,” said I. Sudakov. “And he provided one. So his documents complied with the requirements of the tender.” In fact, in the set of documents provided by the businessman, he included a copy of the agreement with the same city education department that was signed in 2013.
Ihor Sudakov and Ihor Eliseyev (at the head of the table) answer journalists’ questions
By the way, the carrots with nitrates, the supply of which was stopped in August by the education department after a few checkups initiated by MV journalists, was also supplied to kindergartens by V. Korotkiy. However, this vegetable did not disappear from children’s meal plans. On August 19, the city’s education department created a committee and started checking on this questionable product. On August 29, I. Sudakov, as head of this committee, signed an act on temporarily terminating the use of carrots. On August 20, not waiting for the results from the committee’s checkups, V. Korotkiy personally selected and provided a kilogram of carrots for testing to the Zaporizhya Scientific-Production Center for Standardization, Metrology and Certification. The results indicated that the carrots had 38 mg/kg of nitrates of the allowed 250 mg/kg. Based on these documents, the carrots returned to kindergartens. Officials again believed the papers.
We did not manage to communicate with V. Korotkiy ourselves. He did not answer calls and his representative just briefly answered, said that Volodymyr Serhiyivich was busy, that there was no possibility to talk with him and only promised to send him requests for meetings. But after that, neither V. Korotkiy nor his assistant called back.
The testing showed
MV journalists did not believe the documents and initiated an independent test of the butter in the children’s meals. Journalists and representatives of the city’s education department and the public organization Hrad went on October 20 to take samples of butter from the kitchen of Kindergarten #99: 290 grams from a box labeled “Selyanske sweet butter” 72.5% fat. This sample went to Kyiv for expert testing at the Chief Department of the Ukrainian State Scientific-Production Center for Standardization, Metrology, Certification and Customer Rights Protection. It appeared that this was the only organization ready to conduct this kind of test. Neither in our city nor in the region are there licensed laboratories that can check on the quality of this product. Why? That is a big question.
The response from the specialists came back pretty quick.
The percent of non-dairy fat in the total weight was 100 (!) percent. Basically, this means that instead of being a dairy product, children were fed cheap margarine from vegetable fats. Should we even remind that saturated fatty acids can barely be broken down by the digestion system of adults, not even talking about children? Just like plaster, they layer inside the walls of blood vessels, creating atherosclerotic deposits and thrombi. It causes the development of heart vessel diseases, diabetes and obesity.
Even if all of these “scary stories” do not impress you, let us note that margarine and butter substitute spreads are not on the list of products allowed for the nutrition of children. Margarine is allowed only as an ingredient in baked goods for children. If we are talking about butter that children get as an independent product, which is spread on bread, then it has to be a product of dairy fats, not creamed vegetable fats and not butter with any other ingredients. According to instructions on kindergarten nutrition, it can only be butter with no less than 72.5% fat.
One more interesting fact: while studying the container in which this “butter” was supplied to kindergartens, the police found that the cardboard box for the Bohodukhiv “butter” was not labeled. Under a black and white piece of paper from a regular printer that said that this was “sweet butter,” there was a factory printed blue stamp with the name “Bohodukhiv Sonechko” butter substitute.
Can anyone control it?
As we already mentioned, it is impossible to check the quality of butter in a laboratory in our city – there are no such organizations and the local Sanitary-Epidemiological Service is on unpaid leave and does not have the right to conduct such tests.
Roman Sklyarov, acting head sanitary doctor of the city, answers journalists’ questions:
((Video summary: The official complains that their Sanitary-Epidemiological Service does not check products that are part of bids in tedners and that they do not have the right to test the products supplied to kidenrgartens due to a new order from the Cabinet of Ministers.))
According to amendments to the law on the state budget from July 31, 2014, “checkups of enterprises, institutions, organizations and private individuals/entrepreneurs are prohibited by any oversight institution (except for the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine) during the period August-December 2014 and can be allowed only with permission from the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine or with a request from a businessman to do a checkup.”
Moreover, there is nobody to do the checkups: all employees from this service are on unpaid leave. As for the tender that the city’s education department conducted in March and when checkups were allowed, specialists from the Sanitary-Epidemiological Service participated only as experts to define whether the provided documents on product quality were legal and authentic. “There is the notion of economic activity,” said Roman Sklyarov, acting head sanitary doctor of the city. “A tender is a structural component of these activities. Thus, if we interfere with this procedure, it could be considered to be influencing or interfering with these activities, which is prohibited.”
I. Eliseyev, head of the city’s education department, is not confused by this turn of events. He is sure of the quality of the supplied products since all of the documents on it are in order and there is no grounds to not trust them. And it is true. Each shipment of products had a document from the State Sanitary-Epidemiological Service (Author: pretty bad quality copies in which it is hard to make out anything) stating that “the product complies with established medical criteria for safety” dated October 25, 2010.
According to law, this document is issued once every five years and nobody cares what happens during the interim period.
The nutrition department of the city’s education department deals with accounting reports on food products, which means that they check documents without seeing the products themselves. The responsibility for checking and accepting the products lies with inventory managers, medics, cooks and the heads of kindergartens. This is in accordance with the Instruction of the Organization of Nutrition, compiled by officials from two ministries, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Health Protection. That said, to accept products according to the instruction, kindergarten staff do not have the right to sample butter since this product is “industrially produced” (just like sausage, hard cheese, baked goods, fruits, etc.) and should be evaluated only according to weight.
Even if they were allowed to open packages before accepting them, would they be able to tell the difference between butter substitute spreads or margarine with vegetable fats from real butter? A cook from one of the kindergartens that has 17 years of work experience, in the presence of the committee from the education department, confessed that she would not be able to tell the difference. That is all that can be done on the topic of control.
Representatives from the education department, Sanitary-Epidemiological Service and prosecutor are already acquainted with the test results on butter. The prosecutor is already considering complaints by MV journalists and the department in parallel. On October 24, I. Eliseyev signed an order to terminate the use of and supply of butter to kindergartens in the city. The Melitopol regional prosecutor opened a criminal case into the replacement of butter in kindergartens in the city. According to Melitopol Regional Prosecutor Serhiy Shcherbina, the questionable product was removed from kindergartens and is being sent for testing. Now this testing was initiated by the prosecutor. Information about the actions of the supplier businessman was registered in the Single Register of Pre-Trial Investigations and categorized under part 1, article 190 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (fraud). The investigation is in progress.
It is also true that butter has disappeared from children’s menus and instead children are receiving hard cheese. Until the investigation is over, the cooks will have to replace this product in accordance with existing norms and make sure that dinners do not fall below the required level of calories and usefulness.
If law enforcement is only starting to conduct checkups, then the people have already “taken up their pitchforks.” On October 24, representatives of Right Sector visited the office of Ihor Eliseyev, head of the city’s education department, and met with his deputy Ihor Sudakov. Each one of them had to try the product that was supplied to the kitchens of kindergartens as “butter.”
By the way, on September 30, checkup visits already took place to I. Eliseyev in order to discuss the issue of nutrition in the meal plans of the kindergartens in our city. And even together with the head of the department they visited the nearest kindergarten hoping to try the notorious butter/margarine. But, to the surprise of the entire delegation, the butter in this kindergarten “had just run out.” There was nothing to test. On the same day, the activists were forced to take a promise from the official that he would resolve the issue of kindergarteners’ nutrition. I. Eliseyev reassured that he would do everything possible to resolve the issue. And if he had any difficulty, the activists promised to provide all the help they could.
But the matter did not go anywhere. The head of the education department did not understand his responsibility, which is why the activists came back already with the margarine for the official. The official complained about the actions of the activists to the police. Information about this event was registered in the Single Registry of Pre-Trial Investigations under article 296 (hooliganism).
The heads of institutions within the local education department sent an open letter to the newsrooms of Melitopol media.
In a letter to the secretary of the city council, prosecutor and city police department, they claimed that “they cannot adequately organize the education process” since “they do not feel sufficient protection and support from the city council or law enforcement.”
The reason for this letter – the “visits” from representatives of the local Right Sector to the head of the city’s education department. The people in masks who were trying to feed the officials of the city’s education department with the product similar to butter were referred to as criminals by the directors of the schools and other educational institutions. They said they were afraid that these criminals “can go unpunished if they walk into any educational institution.”
Under the officials’ control
Serhiy Minko, secretary of the city council and acting city mayor, reacted to the situation. He did that only after the activists visited the head of the education department. On October 31, the head of the city signed an order to create a working group to deal with an investigation “into the issue of purchases of work, goods and services” by the city’s education department and will “release corresponding conclusions.”
The working group, consisting of 12 people, was headed by S. Minko himself. It also included Elena Dubinina, manager of affairs of the city council; Irina Rudakova, first vice-mayor; Volodymyr Brustinov and Volodymyr Yalpachik, city council deputies; Nataliya Doloman, head of the financial division; Mariya Belohurova, head of the executive division on regulatory policy and tenders; Mikhail Dodudzinskiy, head of one of the legal departments; Aleksandr Melkovskiy, head of the city police department; Larisa Saprikina, chief sanitary doctor of the city; Alevtina Shakhova, member of the executive board; and Yuriy Dmitrienko, head of the Melitopol city organization of the Right Sector political party (from the public). The press service of the mayor’s office was ordered to deliver the results of the work from the working group to the public.
Of course, the newsroom does not approve of the methods of Right Sector and does not support street justice. However, on the other hand, we remember that two years ago when kindergarteners were fed margarine, the people who were guilty were never punished. In that context, the idea of cutting off the hands of the thieves does not look that bad.
The real crime is feeding children margarine instead of butter and stealing the money made on the difference in price. This is what is happening in reality. MV did not start writing about it this year and nothing is changing. Tenders are being won by connected suppliers and kindergartens are receiving questionable products. Some parties are making money on this and other parties are seeing what is going on, but preferring to remain silent. How long will this last?
This investigation was conducted by Lyubov Chayka and Aleksandr Ofitserov.
Investigation was done with the support of SCOOP