Kosovo sell-offs will resume soon, EU envoy promises

PRISTINA – The top official in charge of privatization in Kosovo, a process criticized as slow and shambolic by local leaders and business people, has said a new wave of sell-offs will begin soon. Privatization was suspended last October, as officials were preparing a third tranche of companies for sale, after the disputed Balkan province’s international administration decided to revise the procedure it had set up to prevent abuses. Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff, the head of the European Union mission overseeing privatization, told Reuters many problems had now been resolved and a new list of companies to be tendered from a range of sectors would be issued in «a matter of days.» But he also said aspects of the sell-off process could still change to give workers of privatized companies more protection against layoffs. Items such as the standard sale contract are also under review. «It may well be that during the tender process some of the conditions may change,» Lambsdorff said in an interview late on Thursday in Pristina, the capital of the ethnic Albanian dominated province of around 2 million people. Officials see privatization as vital to reviving Kosovo’s economy and creating jobs by getting private investment into communist-era firms long starved of funds in one of the poorest parts of Europe. Most of the proceeds from any sell-off are placed in trust, pending a resolution of Kosovo’s final status. The EU oversees the Kosovo Trust Agency (KTA), a body of international and local officials set up to sell off companies designated as socially owned, a concept from the old communist Yugoslavia under which workers nominally owned their firms. A refrigerator factory, several hotels and companies making building materials have been among the small and medium-sized firms offered for sale by the KTA so far. The province’s biggest brewery had been expected to be in the aborted third wave. The agency says it has now sold the refrigerator factory and three other firms from the first round of privatization, which began last May. Lambsdorff said he was also about to sign the sale contracts for some 14 companies from the second wave. But the KTA has come under increasingly heavy fire from local politicians, business executives and media outlets for not completing sell-offs more quickly and especially for suspending the process. «The heads of the KTA… When they want to, they keep promises they’ve given. When they don’t, they don’t,» said an article in Friday’s Zeri daily.

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