Monday, October 24, 2005

President Celebrates as Sale Shows Change From Old Guard to the New

KIEV, Ukraine -- The re-privatisation of Ukraine’s biggest steelworks was President Yushchenko’s first big victory in his quest to rid Ukraine of the corruption and economic mismanagement that have plagued it since 1991.

Victor Yushchenko meets with Lakshmi Mittal

And it came just in the nick of time. Mr Yushchenko came to power in last year’s Orange Revolution, pledging to eradicate official graft, overhaul public finances, attract more foreign investors and take Ukraine into Nato and the European Union.

He highlighted last year’s sale of Kryvorizhstal for a fraction of its market value as one of the worst economic abuses committed under Leonid Kuchma, the former President, and pledged to reverse the deal.

Until yesterday, however, almost all of his reforms had been stalled by a power struggle between the Orange Revolution’s leaders, which sent his popularity ratings plunging.

The infighting and intrigue burst into the open last month when he was forced to sack Yuliya Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, and her entire Cabinet. With crucial parliamentary elections looming in March, many Ukrainians started to grumble that the new government was no better than the former one.

Yet yesterday’s auction demonstrated live on Ukrainian television the fundamental difference between the old guard and the new.

Under Mr Kuchma, a crown jewel of Ukrainian industry was sold at a knockdown price to two Ukrainian oligarchs with close links to the presidential administration. One of the oligarchs is Mr Kuchma’s son-in-law. Under Mr Yushchenko, the same company was sold for six times that to a major international company.

That one deal brought more money into the federal budget that all the other privatisations since Ukraine won independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991.

The Ukrainian Government plans to use the proceeds to plug a budget deficit and increase social spending, a move that will boost Mr Yushchenko’s standing for the parliamentary polls.

And according to the State Property Fund, it is already planning its next major privatization. Dmitry Parfenenko, the Property Fund’s deputy chairman, identified the incomplete Krivy Rih Oxidized Ore Mining and Enrichment Combine as the next on the list.

Mittal Steel and Sinosteel are believed to be interested, as are Ukraine’s Inhulets and Poltavsky iron ore producers and Russia’s Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works (MMK).

Source: The Times

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