THE TROIKA has spoken and there will be no last-minute reprieve for the semi-governmental organisations that have been slated for privatisation. As it was reported yesterday, the ‘umbrella law’ setting the framework and timelines for privatisations needed to be approved by the legislature by the end of this month to open the way for the fourth instalment of financial assistance. ‘No privatisation law, no money,’ was the Troika’s clear message at yesterday’s meeting with the finance minister Harris Georgiades.
The lenders were helping the government with their ultimatum because no other option has been left open.
Deputies, the majority of whom are opposed to the privatisations, would not be able to do anything but approve the bill when it is submitted to the legislature. They cannot vote against it and deprive the state of the next tranche of financial assistance, without which it would be in deep trouble. We will probably hear the familiar complaints by deputies, about the legislature losing its sovereignty, and there may be a small delay in approving the bill as a reaction, but in the end the ‘sell-off of the public wealth’ will go through.
There was no other way the bill could have been approved as all the parties, except DISY, were dogmatically opposed to privatisation. Government partners DIKO tried to find a middle way, its leader supporting the idea that privatisations were put on hold, because the sale price would be low in these economic conditions. But how many years would we have to wait for economic conditions to improve? The Troika would never have bought this argument and would have seen it as nothing more than a delaying tactic.
SGO unions could make a little fuss as will AKEL, repeating its familiar lament about the ‘sell-off of profitable organisations’, but the truth is that the provision for privatisations was included in the first draft of the memorandum agreed by Demetris Christofias at the end of 2012. And these organisations would have been much more profitable if they were in private hands and not run by unions and political parties. They were, after all, monopolies the profitability of which came from high price charged to the consumers. While CyTA faced competition, the EAC and Ports Authority never did and simply overcharged their customers for their so-called profitability. Nobody ever mentions it but extortionate port charges are a reason for the high prices of all imported products.
Privatisation is the only hope for more competitively priced services, which is why we have to agree with DISY leader Averof Neophytou’s view that the sooner it happens the better.