Companies’ financial statements: restricted open data

06-05-2020

Why official open sources do not contain companies’ financial statements and what to do with this

We are all accustomed that some important company’s information, such as its director, founders, activities and even beneficiaries, is available to everyone online and for free. You just need to visit the Ministry of Justice website or download the entire register from data.gov.ua.

The financial statements of each company should be published in the same way. They should be published, but they are not published. However, you can easily buy such information illegally on the Internet.

Why companies’ financial statements are needed

Such financial statements contain details of income, expenses, profits / losses, assets, capital, liabilities, company staff and more. These data allow to evaluate the status of a specific company as well as the entire sector, city or region.

The data of a particular company is of interest primarily to its counterparties to assess the risk of cooperation. Potential employees can also check their employer’s status.

Data by industry and region are of interest to both entrepreneurs (assessing the profitability of sector companies, the competitive environment, etc.), as well as to journalists and analysts (from economic to anti-corruption investigations).

How to access companies’ financial statements legally
  1. From the company itself

Any company is required to provide financial statements upon request (Law on Accounting, Art.14).

In practice, companies do not actually offer financial statements upon request. We at the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO) faced this when developing changes to protect mobile subscribers from paying for services they did not order. We submitted 11 requests to the companies and received only one response that was negative (the company refused to provide its financial statements). 10 out of 11 companies simply ignored our request.

I dare say that most entrepreneurs have not even heard that they had a legal obligation to provide financial statements.

  1. From public authorities

Who has financial statements?

Financial statements are available to the Fiscal Service and the State Statistics Service (they are submitted to them directly). In addition, the State Statistics Service should send financial statements of the Ministry of Justice, because it is included to the Unified Register of Legal Entities and Natural Persons (Article 9 of the Law on State Registration of Legal Entities).

What authority is required to provide such reporting?

Any authority having such information (Fiscal Service, Ministry of Justice, State Statistics Service).

What laws stipulate it?

According to the Law on Accounting (Article 14), financial statements of enterprises:

  • Do not contain commercial secrets
  • Are not confidential information
  • Are not classified as restricted information (with some exceptions)
  • Are not subject to the prohibition on dissemination of statistical information

This means that financial statements of any company should be open.

Open financial reporting is not a Ukrainian know-how: it is an EU approach. It is laid down in Directive 2013/34/EC. Ukraine has committed itself to fulfill this requirement (paragraph 830 of the EU Association Agreement Implementation Plan).

How should public authorities publish their financial statements?

According to the Law on Access to Public Information, all information available to public authorities should:

  1. Be provided upon request.
  2. Be regularly published as an array of data (as open data).

Do public authorities publish their financial statements?

No. In practice, neither the Fiscal Service, nor the State Statistics Service, nor the Ministry of Justice publish the financial statements in the format of open data: neither on their websites, nor on the data.gov.ua portal.

These authorities also refuse to provide financial statements upon request. Both our experience and the requests of Opendatabot, the OpenUp community and other colleagues confirm this fact.

I dare say that most entrepreneurs have not even heard that they had a legal obligation to provide financial statements.

There are quite different explanations to hide financial statements. The State Statistics Service refers to the secrecy of statistical information. The Fiscal Service refers to the non-disclosure of taxpayer information. Both authorities ignore the Law on Access to Public Information and the Law on Accounting.

Financial statements of issuers of securities and other stock market participants are a separate issue as they are published by the National Commission on Securities and Stock Market Regulation. The Commission developed a specialized reporting disclosure format and launched the API to access it.

Practical availability of financial statements

This de facto database is sold on many illegal websites on the Internet. You will find such websites on the first page of Google search, they are not hidden.

The paradox is that the State Statistics Service and the Fiscal Service are so concerned about the secrets of taxpayers that they do not meet the requirements of the Law on Access to Public Information. But at the same time, their databases are actively sold on the Internet for some reason.

What should be done?

We believe that the Fiscal Service, the State Statistics Service and the Ministry of Justice should meet the requirements for access to public information – and publish financial statements of enterprises. The Digital Ministry should help publish this information in the open data format (because it is responsible for the open data policy).

In addition, financial statements can be added to the list of open data sets established by the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of 2015 No.835. Generally, government agencies are more willing to publish information if it is explicitly specified in the CMU Resolution.

Our analysis “Green Paper on Open Data Policy” shows that up to 5 million people use open data-based services every month. These are well-known services such as Opendatabot, Easyway and others. Even more people will be able to get useful information if the state makes public new data. Financial statements are one of the priority data sets to make public.

Source: nv.ua

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