No private management in public utilities, says minister

Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis yesterday told a gathering where businessmen predominated that the State would not cede the management of listed public utilities. Speaking at a conference on the state of the economy, Christodoulakis did not skirt the problems hurting the economy, notably inflation, unemployment and the state of the stock market, but did try to put a positive spin on events, including Eurostat’s detailed revelation of the State’s creative accounting practices, for which he, as a former deputy finance minister – from 1996 to 1999 – was largely responsible. Christodoulakis told the audience that, following Eurostat’s revision of budget statistics that will turn Greece’s vaunted budget surplus into a deficit, «the figures that our country presents, either in Greece or abroad, will be totally compatible and comparable with the statistics of other countries.» Referring to privatizations, the minister strongly hinted that the sale of a 23 percent stake in Hellenic Petroleum to a consortium made up of Latsis group company Petrola and Russia’s Lukoil will be completed by the end of the year. «Proceeds from privatizations that have been completed have reached 1.7 percent of GDP. With the completion of [sale of] Hellenic Petroleum, they will exceed 2 percent of GDP,» he said, adding that this was the largest percentage on a European level. Christodoulakis ruled out reducing the State’s stake in key utilities to a level which would take control away from the State. «State asset sales is a tool of structural policy. The goal is not only to reduce public debt, but to help create more competitive markets… For floated large utilities, the State will never reduce its stake in order to give management to private or strategic investors,» he said. Knowing that he would face criticism over what is perceived as the slow provision of European Union funds, set aside for big projects under the Third Community Support Framework, Christodoulakis blamed «excessive bureaucratic procedures» in the EU that have delayed the transfer of some 20 billion euros to Greece and other recipient countries. Commenting on the current debate in Europe over sticking to the Stability and Growth Pact rules on balanced budgets, he said the debate did not concern Greece, which has a high debt and which would benefit from sticking to the pact’s rules. Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, chairman of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), focused his speech on why Greece fails to attract as much foreign investment as it would like. He pointed to the multiplicity of laws and regulations, bureaucracy and a lack of major structural reforms as the main factors that scare away potential investors. Tzannetos Karamichas, the president of PASEGES, the association of cultural cooperatives, criticized the State’s inefficiency in securing EU funds targeted at farmers. He said that because of the revision of the Common Agricultural Policy, Greece’s farmers will see their income reduced by about 300 million euros annually from 2007 to 2013.