Serbia drafts 3-year privatization plan

BELGRADE – Serbia has drafted a three-year timetable for the privatization of its six most valuable public companies, hoping to attract billions of dollars in new investment and boost future economic growth. The draft, seen by Reuters, sets out new plans for the oil, power and landline monopolies, Serbia’s flag-carrier JAT, Belgrade airport and Galenika pharmaceuticals firm. The government is expected to discuss and approve it by mid-December. It believes the privatization of six monopolies by 2010 can secure between $6.0 and $8.0 billion in foreign investment and strong economic growth of 7-9 percent a year. Speeding up the privatization of inefficient public monopolies is high on the list of reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lenders as a way to boosting Serbia’s competitiveness. According to the draft, a tender for the NIS oil monopoly would be called by March next year, and the transaction completed in a public auction by end-2008. «The Ministry of Economy proposes a model in which we immediately sell a majority stake to a strategic investor, with the government keeping a golden share,» the document read. The auction price for NIS should be set high and the buyer will remain obliged to add up to $300 million in investments. Serbia initially planned to sell a 25 percent stake in NIS for around $300 million, giving the buyer a chance to boost its stake to 37.5 percent with an extra investment of $250 million. A similar timetable was proposed for flag carrier JAT Airways. Initial public offerings (IPOs) were planned for four other companies: a 14 percent stake in landline monopoly Telekom Srbija – already 20-percent owned by Greece’s OTE – would be sold by end 2008. IPOs offering 15 percent stakes in three other firms would come later – in the second quarter of 2009 for Belgrade airport, and in the third quarter of 2009 for Galenika drugs maker, which controls a third of the Serbian market. Power monopoly EPS would be last, with an IPO launched probably in 2010. As part of the IPO plans, the ministry wants to give shares free of charge to around 4 million Serbian citizens. Trade unions oppose the plan, saying only workers in those six state companies should be the ones to get free shares.