Cyprus Mail

SGO bill back on the table

Finance Minister Harris Georgiades

By George Psyllides

CONFRONTATION over the bill to privatise semi-government organisations would not benefit anyone, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said yesterday as the government re-submitted the legislation to parliament a day after it was rejected, potentially putting an international bailout programme at risk.

“If we sink, we will all sink together,” the minister said. “If on the other hand we work responsibly and with confidence as we have done in recent months, together we will succeed again.”

The European Commission said yesterday it was closely monitoring the situation in Cyprus and reminded that approval of the bill was one of the preconditions of the bailout agreement, and for receiving the next tranche.

Olli Rehn’s representative Simon O’ Connor said: “We understand that the government plans to re-submit the bill in the House of Representatives. We are closely monitoring the situation and I repeat that it is a prerequisite for the disbursement of the next installment,” O’ Connor said.

Georgiades said the government would do whatever possible to maintain the course charted in the past few months to stabilise the Cypriot economy.

Earlier, the government spokesman said legislation, amended to accommodate concerns over workers legacy rights, would be submitted to the House of Representatives.

The new bill is expected to be discussed on Tuesday.

Georgiades said the bill secured the role of parliament as well as the rights of the workers.

Parliament on Thursday rejected the privatisation plan, potentially throwing into disarray an international bailout programme of the island and endangering the next tranche of a €10bn loan.

The vote was split evenly, with 25 lawmakers in favour and 25 against, and five abstentions from DIKO, which has eight MPs. The bill needed a simple majority to pass. AKEL, EDEK and the Greens voted against.

Approval of a privatisation plan is mandatory under terms of an EU/IMF bailout Cyprus secured in March 2013. Without approval of the legislation, Cyprus is not eligible for a fourth tranche of about €236m in aid next month.

The state has already received almost half its bailout amount.

As part of its commitments to pay down debt, Cyprus is expected to privatise three major public utility corporations, raising some €1.4bn by 2018. Those earmarked for sale include the Telecommunications Authority, the Electricity Authority and the Ports Authority.

The Eurogroup was due to green-light the disbursement of the next instalment when it next met on March 5.
Rejection of the bill was caused by DIKO’s abstentions.

Reports suggested that the abstaining MPs – former party chairman Marios Garoyian, Athina Kyriakidou, Angelos Votsis, Antonis Antoniou, and Fytos Constantinou – did so to show their disagreement with the party leader Nicolas Papadopoulos’ decision to pull the party out of the coalition government because of the president’s handing of the Cyprus problem.

Papadopoulos and two others voted in favour.

Papadopoulos said the bill did not go through because the party’s amendments were not accepted, rejecting suggestions that his party was to blame for the debacle.

“It was not our best moment last night. I accept this, but not just for the Democratic Party,” Papadopoulos said.

He said he understood the MPs who abstained and denied that his party was split.

DIKO, he said, submitted amendments and got the impression that they would be accepted by ruling DISY.

“What we faced last night was a sterile refusal for anyone to come to an understanding with us,” he said.

Asked why he voted in favour, Papadopoulos said DIKO was caught unawares and MPs voted as they thought fit.

After studying the new bill, Papadopoulos signalled on Friday afternoon that it would be approved.

He expressed satisfaction because the cabinet accepted most amendments submitted by DIKO “a fact that permits approval of the bill. We would not be here today if all this had happened yesterday.”

Papadopoulos said those who tried to hurt DIKO by blaming the rejection on the party’s split vote were only trying to mislead public opinion.

The new bill does not include an amendment proposed by DIKO, which stated that even if a position is scrapped, the holder continued to hold it with all the privileges and benefits until they retired or promoted.

That provision was rejected by international lenders.

DISY leader Averof Neophytou said his party could not vote for something they knew would not be accepted by the lenders.

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