ECONOMY

Does government dare follow example of rail privatization?

The international economy provides a multitude of examples for competent ministers in Greece to evaluate, import and adapt accordingly. After all, not only do we lag in convergence with our European Union partners, but we often diverge as well. The decision by the German government for the partial privatization of the country’s railways, the Deutsche Bahn, makes some very interesting reading. This is far from any desperate effort to save a state company or for the government to boost revenues in order to reduce its public deficit, as happens with virtually all the privatizations taking place in Greece. On the contrary, the Deutsche Bahn is an exemplary example of a state company, as it has managed to increase its profits every year, while its annual turnover reaches -30 billion. Then why does the German government want to sell 25 percent of the firm, priced at -3 billion? The answer is, simply, in order to for it to grow further as well as bring in private investors for greater transparency in the company. German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee announced that the funds drawn from the listing of Deutsche Bahn on the stock market will be shared by the state and the company. He estimated that the company will face greater competition in the future and stated, «We want to play a role in the European railway transport market.» Consequently, this is a decision made by the federal government toward a more efficient company that offers citizens better and cheaper service. Are there any reverberations of this ground-shaking change here in Greece? Of course not. Nothing happens here as Greeks continue to suffer every day on the antiquated carriages rolling down 19th century tracks. If anyone tried to delve into the finances of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), they would get a headache from reading over the growing debts and the borrowing needs of the corporation, expected to reach -1,168 million this year, twice as much as three years ago. This frightening deficit is mostly due to the number of OSE employees, as the company has not been modernized yet, while accidents are not uncommon. Which government member would then dare to propose the privatization of OSE in stages? Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias would say this was not in the party’s election program, Transport Minister Michalis Liapis would mention that in the UK rail privatization failed and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas would say that such a strategic sector must remain under the auspices of the state. We will never progress unless Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis forms a more serious government.