Serb lawmakers divided over IMF’s requested privatization of oil firm

BELGRADE – Serbia’s legislators were deeply divided yesterday over plans to sell the state oil company, as requested by the International Monetary Fund, with some opposition parties demanding it remain in government hands. Other opposition parties accused the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of poor strategy in the proposed restructuring and privatization of the Oil Industry of Serbia, or NIS. The government has put forward legislation that would turn NIS, a Communist-era giant and one of the biggest oil companies in the Balkans, into three separate companies and thus pave the way for its gradual privatization. Serbia launched pro-Western market reforms after former president Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in 2000. The economy remains in shatters following decades of Communist rule, mismanagement and international isolation. The IMF, which is aiding Serbia’s transition to a market economy, has warned that unless the privatization of NIS and reform of the pension system start by October, it will abolish a credit arrangement with Belgrade which would jeopardize the republic’s economic recovery. It was not immediately clear when the 250-member parliament will vote on the NIS legislation. While Serbian media have said that the ruling coalition is split on the issue, government officials expressed confidence the proposal will win the necessary majority. But some opposition parties argued that NIS was among the government’s biggest assets and must not be sold off. «Our job is to protect whatever is good in our country and functions well,» said Aleksandar Vucic of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party. «The citizens of Serbia want a clear picture about our energy resources and treasures.» Energy Minister Radomir Naumov said abolishing NIS’s Communist-era structure was a key condition for the company’s modernization: «No other company in the world looks like NIS any longer,» he said. NIS has 17,000 employees and departments for oil and gas production, processing and trading. It has reported production of an equivalent of 783,000 metric tons of oil and earned 2.4 billion dinars (28.5 million euros) in 2004. Its retail wing owns hundreds of gasoline stations throughout Serbia. (AP)

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