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Our View: Imperative for the government to take control of SGOs

"Not for sale" reads the banner outside the EAC building

DEPUTIES from all the parties have expressed reservations about the government bill that would bring all public bodies including semi-government organisations under the direct authority of the finance ministry. Even a deputy of AKEL, the party which dogmatically believes in state ownership and control, has criticised the bill because “despite some good elements in there, autocratic elements dominate.”

This was a legitimate criticism, though unexpected from an AKEL deputy who should have been celebrating over the government’s plans to take total control of all these wasteful, inefficient public entities. There is an explanation for the bill and, thankfully, it is not because the government has suddenly embraced Soviet thinking. Bringing these organisations under the direct control of the finance ministry is an obligation stemming from the memorandum of understanding, as it is a necessary step before privatisations.

It would be rank stupidity to leave SGOs like CyTA, the Ports Authority and EAC under the control of their boards which are made up of party and union placemen. Considering the parties and the unions are the most vehement opponents of privatisation, could they be trusted to ensure there is a smooth path to privatisation or would they be delaying decisions and placing obstacles at every stage of the procedure?

There are deadlines for each stage of the complex privatisation procedure which the government is committed to meeting. It therefore cannot afford to have the parties and unions that have sworn to prevent privatisation using the boards which they control for this purpose. It is a paradox, but the government has been obliged to prepare legislation that would give it autocratic powers over public organisations so that it could eventually transfer ownership to investors.

If it keeps SGOs under their current legal status the planned privatisations might never take place. We have seen how irresponsibly the parties have been acting with regard to the foreclosures law, so what would stop them taking a similar line on privatisations? They would claim that by blocking privatisations they were protecting the livelihood and rights of the SGO workers and demand that the government re-negotiated the memorandum.

Nobody could trust the party placemen on the SGO boards that are in cahoots with the unions to press ahead with all the preparatory work for privatisation. This is why it is an imperative for the government to take complete control before the procedures begin next year. However it remains to be seen whether the parties approve the bill that would pass control to the finance ministry. It is entirely possible they will decide to block the bill in order to cause problems to the privatisation drive.

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