Steelworks bid over soon

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Montenegro is expected to pick the winning bid for a majority stake in its steelworks Niksic by the end of the month, a senior company official said yesterday. The state agency for economic restructuring and foreign investment launched an international tender on July 11 to sell a 57.99 percent stake in the steelworks, which was almost brought to a standstill by sanctions and mismanagement in the 1990s. Arsenije Jovanovic, a member of the company’s board of directors, said the agency should have made its choice by the end of October from three firms which tendered. «They are the Bulgarian Steel Group Investment Consortium, the German Maz Aicher and Turkey’s Kurum,» he told Reuters. «Representatives of all three companies have visited the plant and the future partner should be the one that offers best conditions for its stable and long-term operation,» he added. Jovanovic also said the company was readying a business plan for 2004. He said a foreign partner was the only hope for the debt-laden Niksic plant. Niksic has an installed capacity of 300,000 tons per year of crude steel, 190,000 tons steel melting plant and some 600,000 tons of steel products. The lack of a credit rating as well as frequent strikes by some 3,600 employees over late wages have halted production several times this year. A chronic cash shortage and outdated technology, as well as loss of markets following the breakup of the old Yugoslav federation, slashed the plant’s output to 36,000 tons of crude steel in January-September, down 31 percent over the same period in 2002.