Poland sees setback over privatisation

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(First Edition)

THE POLISH government yesterday sought to put a brave face on its failure to secure parliamentary approval for a mass privatisation programme on Thursday, announcing its intention to reintroduce a modified version of the bill in the near future, writes Adrian Bridge.

'We are determined to go through with the (economic) reforms and to return to the draft law on mass privatisation,' said Jerzy Kaminski, the minister in charge of government-parliament relations. Zdobyslaw Milewski, the spokesman for Hanna Suchocka, the Prime Minister, said that there was no question of the government backing down over the issue.

The defeat of the privatisation bill in parliament represented the biggest setback to the seven-party coalition government of Ms Suchocka since it came to power last July, and sparked immediate fears that recent tentative signs of economic recovery in Poland could be reversed.

Ian Hume, the Warsaw representative of the Washington-based World Bank, described the defeat as an 'unfortunate decision, which sent the wrong signal'. In Washington, officials of the World Bank, which is poised to grant Poland new credits worth hundreds of millions of dollars, were reported to be seeking urgent clarification of the implications of the vote.

Although most observers believed the privatisation law would be passed, albeit with a slender majority, it was rejected by 203 to 181 votes, with 12 coalition members voting with the opposition and 69 MPs not bothering to turn up for the vote at all.

In its original form, the privatisation law sought to give all Poles, including children, the chance to buy at nominal prices shares in some 600 state-owned enterprises that were to be transferred to investment funds under the management of foreign consultants.

Staunchly Catholic MPs objected to the bill on the grounds that it gave foreigners too much influence in Polish industry.