Business News

Financial Firm Boss Unhappy about Slovenia's Economic Strategy (interview)

Ljubljana, 23 November (STA) - The boss of one of Slovenia's biggest financial groups, KD Group, is critical of Slovenia for lacking a clear economic strategy. $Personally I have been waiting 15 years for a decision on what kind of country we want to have,$ Matjaz Gantar told an interview with the STA.

Gantar suggested that Slovenia needed to realise that business must come first. "The health and education systems can only survive with the taxes paid by businesses."

He said the current state of affairs was both tiresome and unsustainable. "All we hear about is scandals and tycoons - everything is wrong."

"Everyone agrees that the state is not a good owner. We also don't want to sell [companies] to foreigners, but if a Slovenian buys them, he is labelled a tycoon. So I would like to know who is a suitable buyer then?"

Gantar said the privatisation drive launched in 1993 was not properly thought through. "In a small economy with only two million people it is clear that we can't have large listed corporations, but that the economy can be held up by people with names and surnames."

"If we discredit these people, the business sector will stagnate," he warned, and pointed to the cases of a number of Slovenia's most respected entrepreneurs who have been forced to seek opportunities abroad because of the state of affairs in Slovenia.

"Ivo Boscarol [the boss of light aircraft maker Pipistrel] is winning awards around the world, but he is moving to Italy," he pointed out in backing up his case.

In Gantar's opinion, the lack of a clear economic strategy is compounded by red tape. He said red tape "was extensive, although in theory anybody can do business here".

"We're not closed but we're not interesting...And what can be done about this? There is less and less money, but the pension age cannot be increased and you're not allowed to make savings anywhere," he said in referring to strong opposition to reforms among various interest groups.

Asked about operations of KD Group, which has had to make extensive write-downs during the crisis, Gantar said that the group was slowly curbing costs so that it should break even by the end of the year.

"In the future, we intend to penetrate Asian markets," said Gantar, who added that the group would remain the owner of insurer Adriatic Slovenica for the time being.

"Yes, we will keep Adriatic Slovenica for now. But the insurance sector is a good example of our country's attitude to the business. We have been in the business for 15 years now and are virtually the only private Slovenian insurer, but the regulator treats us like an inconvenience."

He added that talks had been held with several potential buyers on the sale of Adriatic Slovenica, but did not end in a deal. "We are still thinking about selling certain investments, including Adriatic Slovenica, because we want to focus on specific insurance products."

He explained that KD Group was most interested in life insurance, saying that the group would use the proceeds from the sale of Adriatic Slovenica to finance operations in life insurance at home and in SE Europe.

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