More privatization

After a long period of inertia and vacillation, the government’s economic officials seem to be turning their attention back to privatizations. This has been made evident from progress in the contest for the sale of Hellenic Petroleum to a strategic partner; the holding – regardless of the objections and problems that surfaced – of the contest for the privatization of the Mont Parnes casino; the accelerated sale of an 8-percent share in OTE Telecom to foreign institutional investors; the sale of a 19-percent share in Greek soccer pools and lottery organization (OPAP) to institutional investors; and finally, the impending sale of a 10-15 percent share of the Public Power Corporation to the public or to a strategic partner. At first sight, the whole effort seems part of a political strategy for a comeback by PASOK. Some might say that privatization is once again being treated as a means for making a profit, or for finding funds for pre-election handouts and to ensure support from business groups. If this is so, then any further talk about the fruits of the latest government effort is meaningless. Still, these policies stand a chance of escaping the fate of previous ones. The latest wave of privatizations could offer a solution to, and provide a basis for a more visionary policy. The sale, for example, of a new OTE share, could be combined with the introduction of genuine private-sector criteria into the way the organization functions, thus allowing it to free itself of the organized interests of domestic suppliers. If the profit-driven approach to privatization was stripped of political objectives, and revenues used in a rational fashion (such as a more efficient tax policy) that would boost economic activity, the government’s decisions would be seen in a different light. But can the government persuade anyone of its good intentions?