State privatization program set to pick up pace shortly

Greece yesterday tried to gloss over two high-profile privatization failures this week as it presented a progress report on state-owned assets to be sold off this year and said it aims to surpass last year’s record privatization revenues. From the Piraeus Port to the Postal Savings Bank to water utility EYDAP, the state divestment program is set to pick up pace in the coming months, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis stressed. The government’s privatization program was dealt two heavy blows after lengthy discussions on the sale of oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum and flag carrier Olympic Airways fell through early this week. The two failures came about because the government had refused to bow to demands to revise the asking prices and conditions of the tenders, said Christodoulakis. «The government is not willing to discuss changes regarding price and conditions of the tender. We are absolutely clear on the privatization program. There are specific objectives,» he said. Christodoulakis said the state divestment program is more than just a fund-raising scheme, despite the State’s goal of raising close to 3 billion euros this year. Creating jobs and finding strategic investors are equally important. On Olympic Airways, he reiterated the government’s determination to maintain a national carrier for the 2004 Olympic Games. A New Olympic Airways is to be created which will handle aviation operations while the technical division could be spun off and then team up with the equivalent division at the Hellenic Aerospace Industry to look for a strategic investor. Other options are being examined for oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum. Christodoulakis said other state-owned companies on the privatization list are currently working out the final details for their sell-offs. Gas company DEPA is due to move into the second stage of its search for a strategic investor over the next two months. Nine bidders have declared their interest in acquiring a 35 percent stake. Piraeus Port is to be floated this year with the State offering 25.5 percent of the port’s equity. The government also plans shortly to shed its 33.3 percent stake in Hellenic Exchanges, the holding company for the Athens Stock Exchange. Following its restructuring, the Postal Savings Bank should soon be heading for the stock market with Hellenic Post expected to follow suit and also to team up with a strategic investor. A host of Agricultural Bank’s non-core subsidiaries will also be sold off. Water utility EYDAP is due to offer a 9 percent stake to a strategic ally. Christodoulakis also unveiled plans by the State to exploit its vast land holdings. A Real Estate Investment Company is to be set up under KED, the real estate portfolio management company, which will streamline state-owned properties, attract funds and provide an alternative investment product for investors.