Monday, October 31, 2005

Ukraine's State Enterprises to be Privatized

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new government will move quickly to privatize certain state enterprises and end a cozy relationship between business and government, Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said ahead of a visit to Washington.

PM Yuriy Yekhanurov

Mr. Yekhanurov, who took charge in August after President Viktor Yushchenko dismissed his previous Cabinet amid charges of corruption, said he also will seek improved trade ties with the United States.

Mr. Yekhanurov arrives tomorrow for a two-day stay, during which he is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials.

August and September were the most difficult," Mr. Yekhanurov said of the events that brought him to the prime minister's office. "It's always hard when there are arguments in the family."

But, encouraged by the successful sale of a state-owned steel mill last week, he said that he was "a very big optimist of what is happening" in Ukraine.

In Washington, Mr. Yekhanurov said, he will seek an end to restrictions under the 1975 Jackson-Vanick amendment, which denies normal trading status to countries that restrict emigration. He also is likely to ask the United States to sign a bilateral protocol advancing Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December.

Mr. Yekhanurov, 57, also wants the United States to recognize his country as having a market economy, a designation that would help it attract foreign investment and integrate into the West.

"Ukraine has several strategic assignments," said the prime minister, who holds a doctorate in economics. "Fulfilling those depends on Ukraine entering the WTO."

Mr. Yushchenko won a major political and financial victory last week with the sale of Kryvorizhstal, the country's largest steel-making plant, to Mittal Steel Co. in a nationally televised auction.

The mill sold for $4.8 billion, almost six times the price paid in an earlier sale to two of Ukraine's wealthiest men during the corruption-tainted administration of President Leonid Kuchma. That sale later was ruled illegal and voided by Ukraine's courts.

Mr. Yekhanurov said his government was so pleased with the auction that it is moving ahead with plans to sell three more state enterprises, including Ukrtelecom, the country's phone monopoly.

The president and Mr. Yekhanurov also have talked with some of Ukraine's wealthiest business leaders who acquired state enterprises during the Kuchma administration about paying the difference between the sale prices and realistic market values.

Mr. Yekhanurov was personally involved in the sale of state-owned enterprises as head of the State Property Fund during the 1990s. But he has a reputation as a champion of small- and medium-sized companies and an advocate of honest business.

Mr. Yekhanurov said his government is "looking at the experiences of other countries" to ensure that businessmen who enter politics will be unable to use their influence to profit financially.

"We don't have enough laws and practices of transferring [businesses] into blind trusts," he said.

Mr. Yushchenko fired the government of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in part because of charges of corruption on the part of government officials with outside business interests. Despite Mr. Yushchenko's pledges to end such practices, critics say, he still hasn't done enough to separate business from government.

Mr. Yekhanurov said some Ukrainians have grown disillusioned with the government in recent months, presenting a challenge for pro-presidential forces as they approach parliamentary elections in March.

Mrs. Tymoshenko will contest the elections at the head of her own party but is expected to cooperate with Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party in the next parliament.

"The only question for her is that she shouldn't set ultimatums," Mr. Yekhanurov said.

Source: The Washington Times

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