OTE has its eye fixed on full privatization

OTE, the country’s main telecommunications operator, is ready for full privatization, which will boost its profitability, but the realization of this prospect depends on the government, its chief executive said yesterday. «We are ready for full privatization. We cannot compete as a state-owned company and under laws that create distortions, but the decision belongs to the government,» CEO Panagis Vourloumis told a news conference. He said he is meeting certain difficulties in pushing through a voluntary retirement plan for about 6,000 employees, some of whom will be rehired as specialized staff among a total of 2,500. «I have set a timetable that by year-end we could present a plan to employees. Right now, we don’t know if we can stick to it,» Vourloumis said, explaining that the dialogue is continuing and that government and employees have a positive attitude toward the plan. OTE, which is 37.7 percent state-owned and has about 17,000 staff, hopes the plan, projected to cost about 1 billion euros, will cut costs and bolster profit margins. «If voluntary retirement is 50 percent successful, it will be a good first step,» Vourloumis said. He described as «a science-fiction scenario» a claim by former Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis that OTE is in contact with Spanish giant Telefonica with a view to selling a 15 percent interest plus the management. Vourloumis also dismissed rumors that OTE plans to absorb its successful mobile phone operator CosmOTE, Greece’s market leader. He suggested that the rumors are fueled by a plan for CosmOTE to absorb its Bulgarian and Romanian mobile phone subsidiaries, Globul and Cosmorom. «OTE aims at raising its interest in CosmOTE, not abolishing its autonomy,» he said. Vourloumis said plans to revamp Cosmorom have been thrown into uncertainty by the recent elections in the Balkan neighbor. He claimed that the Romanian government, which also holds a stake in Cosmorom, has shown no interest in the plan and it may have to be abandoned. «As time passes, the window of opportunity narrows,» Vourloumis warned.