By George Psyllides
A BILL to privatise semi-government organisations is set to be voted on by the House on Thursday after it was amended in an effort to satisfy the concerns of workers in the island’s three main organisations.
The bill, discussed in parliament behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, affords parliament a say in all stages of the privatisation procedure and includes workers in consultations.
Finance Committee chairman and DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos voiced satisfaction that the government had adopted the majority of suggestions submitted by DIKO.
Papadopoulos, whose party’s vote is necessary for the bill to be approved, said the decision will be made after the parliamentary group studied the new text.
Approval of the bill is necessary for the release of the next bailout tranche by international lenders.
Privatisations are part of terms in the island’s bailout agreement. Cyprus must raise €1.4 billion through privatisations between 2016 and 2018.
AKEL, EDEK, and the Green party oppose the bill and will try today to postpone the vote.
The bill must be approved by March 10.
Papadopoulos said the amendments were in the right direction though the unions’ demand to ensure their civil servant status was not so clear at this point.
The finance minister has pledged that if possible there will be an effort to safeguard the status, based on current legislation.
Attorney general Costas Clerides also warned that constitutional issues may arise at some stage in the course of the privatisation process but not through this bill.
“Decisions to privatise any semi-state organisation will be taken at a later stage… and parliament’s views and approval will be taken into consideration,” Papadopoulos said. “Parliament will continuously monitor the procedure and have the final say and this satisfies us because it was one of the main conditions we had set.”
The bill provides that parliamentary approval will be necessary to start the procedure but also to set and approve the sale of assets or services.
According to Papadopoulos, even when an organisation is sold the owner will be unable to sack people or not to accept the same staff providing the same services today.
Workers at the three main organisations slated for privatisation – the Electricity Authority, the telecommunications authority and the Cyprus Ports Authority – oppose the bill and have been staging strikes on and off since its approval by the cabinet on February 13.
A protest outside parliament by electricity company workers turned ugly on Monday with two people injured during clashes with riot police.