By Kyriacos Kyriacou – Nicosia
Parliament of Cyprus has adopted on Tuesday a controversial privatisation bill after international lenders warned that in the case of another rejection of the bill the island will not be eligible for the fourth tranche of some €236mln in aid, as part of the €10bn international bailout program. 30 MPs voted for and 26 voted against. Last Thursday, after a heated debate, the same lawmakers had rejected a first draft of the bill, with 25 votes against, 25 in favour and 5 abstentions.
The bill provides the legal framework, which oversees the privatisation of state owned organisations as well as the establishment of relevant bodies in charge of the process. As part of the commitment to pay down debt, the country was expected by tomorrow to have approved the privatisation of the three major semi-state organizations Telecommunications Authority, the Electricity Authority and the Ports Authority, in order to raise some €1.4bn by 2018.
The improved bill, containing amendments proposed by the former junior government coalition party (DIKO), which had been originally rejected by the plenary last Thursday, was submitted to Parliament today through an emergency process.
Ruling centre right party DISY, centre party DIKO, right wing party EVROKO and Famagusta MP, Zacharias Koulias, voted for the adoption of the bill into law. Left wing opposition party AKEL, social democratic KS EDEK, the Greens and the newly formed Citizens’ Alliance voted against the bill. There were no abstentions.
The Parliamentary Committee on Financial and Budgetary Affairs had met earlier on in the day and discussed the bill in its amended form, in the presence of Finance Minister, Harris Georgiades, and Attorney General, Costas Clerides. The meeting was not open to the public.
During the plenary it was pointed out that the inclusion of a new article in the bill, which safeguards the working and pension rights for SGOs’ staff, was made possible after negotiations with Cyprus’ international lenders (EC, ECB, IMF), collectively known as the troika.
AKEL MPs argued that the bill was contrary to the Constitution, noting that the same bill cannot be submitted for a vote before the plenary once it has been rejected, without any significant amendments in its provisions.
On the other hand DISI and DIKO MPs maintained that the inclusion of amendments in the new draft bill resulted in significant changes, while the approval by the troika of a new article within the text constitutes a new development which should be put before the plenary for review.
At the same time it was noted that new provisions have been included, which have to do with safeguarding national security issues and informing the House on the identity of the person to be placed in charge of the privatisations process before his or her appointment.
Outside the Parliament hundreds of workers in the three semi state organisations protested against the bill, without any serious incidences being recorded. Strong police forced secured the area throughout the day.
The government welcomed the approval by the House plenary of the privatisations bill. In a written statement, government Spokesman Christos Stylianides said that the vote of the bill, which was initially rejected last Thursday, reinstates the level of credibility and prestige the country has managed to attain over the past year, during which the people of Cyprus had to make great sacrifices.
At the same time, Stylianides added, that the decision paves the way for the implementation of certain provisions of the bill that aim to modernise and restructure the semi-governmental organizations (SGOs), which are due to be privatised, to the benefit of staff, consumers and the economy in general.
Minister of Finance Harris Georgiades said that the approval by the House plenary of a privatisations bill earlier on Tuesday opens the way to modernisation and reform. In a written statement Georgiades expressed his satisfaction.