Starting from this autumn, women who have just given a birth in all Ukrainian maternity homes get the maternity package of 25 items needed for newborns. It seems to be a great initiative to support responsible parenting with the help of such a basic set.
In Finland, baby boxes have been given for 60 years. Finally, Ukraine has joined. In Finland, all procedures: from the social impact assessment to the baby box selection and the rules for participation in the tender are clearly and transparently scheduled. In Ukraine, the draft has been written somehow in a sloppy way. The focus is primarily on PR, and not on the social effect, as well as the lack of professionalism of performers, is expected to give the result “as always”. The processes are under pressure, with delays, and are accompanied by persistent corruption risks, since everything is dubious – the expediency of choosing funding sources, procedural tools and, as a consequence, the price and quality of the goods in the notorious baby box. At the same time, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, which is responsible for the implementing initiative, for a long time brushed aside the questions of journalists by formal replies, supposing that when the maternity package is issued, all contradictions in their formation will be naturally removed and will be forgotten, because, as the proverb says: never look a gift horse in the mouth.
The first baby-boxes were given to women who have just given a birth on September 17th. Nevertheless, there are still some questions. And yes, this horse is not a gift. However, one step at a time.
The decision to start implementing the pilot project “Responsible Parenthood”, presented by the Deputy Minister of Social Policy on European Integration Oleksandra Churkina, was adopted at the Cabinet meeting on May 30. The first step was the basic set for a baby, which from September 1, 2018 should have been given to all mothers who have just given birth around the country at the maternity homes discharge. (Further, the project also provides for a TORCH-infection checkup after filing an application for registration of a marriage and compensation of 1,500 UAH for a municipal nanny). There was a lot of PR around the maternity package. Although “baby box is just one of the tools for supporting a child after birth”, said the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Children’s Rights Mykola Kuleba. “I have never considered and do not think, that from this all children will be happy. Therefore, this is by no means a component of a state policy, that affects the ability of the family or guarantees the safety of this child. This is just one of the tools”.
Since there was no money for the purchase of baby-boxes, it was decided, that local budgets should finance the initiative with the state budget money to help families with children, poor families and people with disabilities. The cost of the baby box, excluding the cost of procurement, assembly and delivery, was set to “no more than 5 thousand UAH” – the Cabinet resolution №512 dated June 20, 2018. The source of funding is doubtful since the subventions of the regional budgets should be spent by regional budgets. But feeding at the public trough is a common thing to our government. UNICEF supported the initiative. On July 12, 2018, according to the order of the Cabinet №445 dated June 20, 2018, the Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva signed a “Memorandum of mutual understanding between the Government of Ukraine and the United Nations Office for Project Services and the United Nations Children’s Fund in the field of social protection of families with children and support for the development of responsible parenthood”, and later the amendments to it (the Cabinet of Ministers resolution №546 dated 22.08.2018). The memorandum foresees the signing of a separate agreement with each region of Ukraine. On August 20, as a part of the Memorandum, at the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine a project of international technical support №3919 on “Providing of Social Protection and responsible parenthood in Ukraine” was registered. Its cost is 25 million dollars, the term of its implementation is two years (01.07.2018 – 1.06.2020), UNICEF and UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) are its donors, the UNOPS is the executor, the Ministry of Social Policy is the beneficiary, and the recipients “will be chosen in the process of implementation”. Under the treaty sent to the regions, UN assistance to Ukraine is provided by UNOPS. Meanwhile, international technical support, in accordance with national legislation, is provided to Ukraine for free and it is non-negotiable. In this case, international technical support from the United Nations is not monetary, but completely formal, since there is no funding from the international organization. The draft agreement with UNOPS is about co-financing of the project. In fact, the purchase of the maternity package is fully and completely financed by local budgets and – at a rate of 5 thousand UAH for each one (more about it later). UNOPS, meanwhile, assists in the “implementation of measures” and receives 4.5% of the commission charge. According to the Law of Ukraine “On Public Procurement” №922 dated 25.12.2015, public procurement is ordered by public authorities, local governments and social insurance bodies established in accordance with the law, as well as legal entities and their associations that provide for the needs of the state or territorial community if such activity is not carried out on an industrial or commercial basis. The trouble is in the fact, that according to the project of international technical support №3919, in the sense of the Law “On Public Procurement”, UNOPS is not the ordering party, and therefore, the requirements of the law do not apply to it. It was the legal clause, that gave the formal opportunity to purchase baby boxes not through Prozorro system, as O. Churkina promised, but through the UN’s global platform. Most likely, the need for the drafting of international technical support project on August 20 arose precisely because of the procurement of goods and the formation of baby-boxes at the regional level did not meet the deadline. RSA, which the Cabinet Office constantly put pressure on, held off on signing agreements with UNOPS, even the Vinnytsia region registered disapproval, but soon gave in. On September 1, 22 regions signed the agreements, except for Ivano-Frankivsk, Luhansk and Donetsk. (The last two of them are still refusing to sign them, and the Donetsk region has written an application to NABU to consider the legitimacy of such claims).In addition, the approved list of items for the package consisting of 25 things, the press service of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine sent to journalists as early as on August 15. And from this list, it was clear, that the contents of the package are far from 5 thousand UAH, the maximum, according to journalists, – for 3,5 thousand UAH, at retail, rather than wholesale prices. But despite all these specific questions, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine continued to give formal replies, not answering on the merits, and some officials blamed journalists for seeing “betray” where it is not, instead of supporting the extremely “useful” government initiative in every way.On September 17, the long-awaited first baby boxes were given in the regions. Thoughts about their content have been fundamentally divided. Some of the mothers were happy receiving such a help. Some criticized it for the delay, quality, size and selection of things. The most informative, in my opinion, was a review of the baby box by Dr Komarovskiy, in which he multiple times fairly stressed: “This is not a present. It’s purchased for our taxes. So we have to demand quality and compliance”. And the discrepancy in the price of the box and its contents was obvious. Both mothers and journalists have many times noticed: for 5 thousand UAH it was possible to buy almost twice as many things. However, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine continued to keep silence.Although “Textile-Contact” on September 10 reported on its page, that the company “TC Home Textile”, which is a member of the group, won an international tender and is now a provider of the maternity packages. It became widely known only at the press conference on October 16th, which was held in the Cabinet and that somewhat strange, given the interest in the topic of a large number of media, was not widely advertised.
“Bidding for baby boxes was held on the global UN platform, where all UN system tenders are held,” said Andriy Buriakovskyi, the head of the UNOPS office, finally admitting that the package price is actually less than 5,000 UAH. According to Buriakovskyi, it is 3377 hryvnias 30 kopiykas: “This value includes, first of all, the box itself, its content, its packaging, sealing and transportation services, as well as 4.5% of UNOPS.” The main supplier is “TC-Domestic Textile” company, which, according to Buriakovskyi, became the winner among six participants. Unfortunately, the tender documentation and the list of competitors couldn’t be seen.
However, it is known that at the end of August Kyiv City State Administration decided to hold its own tender on baby-boxes through Prozorro. On August 22, according to “Our Money”, the Department of Social Policy of the KCSA held an auction for the purchase of 1030 sets with an expected price of 51.50 million UAH. The bidding was won by the Vinnytsia TOV “B” 777″ of Liubov Bilozaretska, which offered goods for 4,974 UAH for a piece (including VAT and transportation), has reduced the price during the auction only half a percent from the expected. Prices for individual items of components in the kit were not listed, so it is unknown why the price much higher than the real one is. Three companies were not allowed to take part in the bidding at all. The refusal record states, that the offers offered by TOV “Kyivguma”, “Sky Trade Ukraine”, TOV “TC-Domestic Textile” did not meet the tender documentation requirements.
All these facts, as well as the fact that the real price of baby packages was kept silent for a long time, gives reason to think, that it is possible, that it was the hype that the journalists had caused, that prevented putting at least 1600 UAH from each package into the pockets of officials and mediators. According to Buriakovskyi, as a result of the formation of the package, there was a saving of money for 179 million 250 thousand hryvnias or 33% of the budget funds. It is very interesting, when and in what form regions will get “saved” money back. The office recommends buying additional packages for them, “in order to have a smooth transition into 2019.” Most likely, this is exactly the case, as there are no other mechanisms for the return of over-paid areas from subventions of money at present. The story with Ukrainian baby boxes is a vivid example of what happens after unprofessional implementation of social initiatives. “In response to our appeal, DoZorro portal, the public control of state procurement, on November 6, said on its website, “NABU will check the actions of the officials of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, which was involved in the purchase of “baby boxes”. But you shouldn’t refuse to get a baby box, just like buckwheat given before elections. But keep in mind: this is not a gift from the government. All these things are bought for our taxes. And if they’ve been spent on this, then we have the right to carefully treat the content of the packages, and if something is wrong, talk about it. According to O. Churkina, both parents can get the maternity package today. It is provided in maternity homes of both state and private ownership. If there is no “package” in the maternity homes during discharge, then one parent completes the application and it must be brought to the newborn’s home.
The maternity package is provided irrespective of the parent’s income. It can also be obtained by adoptive parents and foster families.
The contents of baby-boxes can vary. “We need to conduct a very detailed and qualitative research, see how different groups react to it, what the responses are, what recommendations. All this should be taken into account and a recommendation to colleagues from the ministry to revise or enrich this format should be given”, says Artur Aivazov, the head of the social policy direction in UNICEF. To the contents of the box, the educational materials from UNICEF will soon be added.
Recently, the official website of the UNICEF office in Ukraine reported, that in a letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Professor Peter Blair and his colleagues from the University of Bristol warned: cardboard baby boxes unreasonably offered for babies’ sleep as a safe alternative to more traditional beds, baby bassinets or baskets.
Without confirmatory evidence, “the cardboard child’s box should be advertised not as a safe place for sleep, but as a temporary replacement if there is nothing else.”
“Population initiatives must meet high standards of safety and efficiency and should undergo strict assessment of their implementation since the potential threat of harm is much higher when targeted to specific groups”, the experts conclude.