Business News

Finance Committee Okays Privatisation Plan

Ljubljana, 14 June (STA) - The parliamentary Finance and Monetary Policy committee approved Friday the government's plan to sell 15 companies as part of the first stage of privatisation despite complaints that a clear strategy for the sale was lacking.

The sale of the 15 companies, including telco Telekom Slovenije and the NKBM, was endorsed in a 10-2 vote, but not before MPs from both sides of the aisle voiced various concerns about the plan.

"What we're debating is an improvisation made up of a list of 15 companies for which nobody truly knows why they are there and nobody can say for sure why, for instance, there are not 16 companies," said Andrej Vizjak, a deputy of the opposition Democratic Party (SDS).

Vizjak, a former economy minister, said the government must first get around to setting down the basic goal of the privatisation process. This would include determining which state stakes are strategic, what the state hopes to achieve with the sale and how it intends to carry it out.

This was echoed by fellow SDS MP Marko Pogačnik, who said that without a classification of state holdings as part of the Slovenia Sovereign Holding there was always a risk that the sale of companies would be influenced by politicians.

Also voicing concern about a lack of strategy were MPs of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), whose support for the sale of the 15 companies has been in doubt.

But SD deputies announced today that they would support the plan. MP Matevž Frangež said this was because they viewed this as an attempt to "save the country's credibility".

Jožef Horvat of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) meanwhile said the coalition parties had double standards, as they had vehemently opposed the plans of the previous, centre-right government to sell companies.

Like the SDS deputies, Horvat said the privatisation should continue on the basis of an investment strategy drafted for the Slovenia Sovereign Holding. The previous government had adopted such a strategy at the end of its term, but the new government said it would draft a new one.

Finance Minister Uroš Čufer responded to the criticism by saying that the current sale had been necessitated by the crisis. "Everyone is asking what and how the companies will be sold, but nobody is asking why we have to do this."

Čufer said that the most important companies slated for sale in the first stage were Telekom Slovenije and NKBM. "The rest have been included because we wanted to achieve a broader privatisation process and not place the whole burden on these two companies."

Meanwhile, new provisions adopted by the government on Thursday in order to beef up safeguards against possible corruption in the sale - these were demanded by the SD in return for support - had deputies with shares in the companies concerned wondering whether they faced a conflict of interest today.

"I own shares of NKBM, what should I do?," Horvat wondered ahead of the vote. A similar question was posed to the Corruption Prevention Commission by SD deputy Matjaž Han, who said he had seriously considered staying at home.

In line with the provisions added to the plan yesterday, the commission and the Court of Audits would carry out oversight in the privatisation process.

Today's endorsement at committee paves the way for the government's plan to be debated by the National Assembly next week.

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