Thousands protest against Telekom Srbija privatisation

Thousands protest against Telekom Srbija privatisation
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade November 12, 2015

Several thousand people joined a demonstration outside the main Serbian government offices on November 11 in protest against plans to privatise telecoms operator Telekom Srbija.

Telekom Srbija is one of the largest and most profitable companies up for privatisation in Serbia. Although the government argues that privatisation will make the telecoms giant more competitive as well as contributing to the state budget, the company’s two trade unions, opposition politicians and a significant number of citizens strongly oppose the sale of the “national treasure”.

According to police, 2,300 people took part in the demonstration to demand an immediate halt to the privatisation process, but the organisers says there were about 10,000 protestors, Beta news agency reported.

The two unions representing Telekom workers, United Union of Telekom Srbija and Union of Telekom Srbija, announced the protest in late October as part of their campaign against the planned sale of the government’s 58.11% stake in Serbia’s largest telco, which they say is a strategically important national company.

The protest, held under the slogan "Stop the sale of Telekom", started at noon in front of the government building. Demonstrators marched to the presidency around 1km away. Union representatives left a letter demanding that the sale process be halted in front of both buildings.

Union of Telekom Srbija leader Miroslav Joksimovic cited a poll showing that 65% of citizens are against the sale, 22% have no opinion and only 13% support it.

On July 3 the Serbian government announced plans to sell its 58.11% stake in the company, and the Agency for Privatisation invited companies with at least €2bn worth of assets or with revenues of over €500mn to make non-binding offers by August 2.

Commenting on the protest, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic repeated that the company will be sold only if Belgrade can get a good price, local media reported on November 11.

Earlier this month, Serbia’s opposition Srpska narodna partija (SNP) leader Nenad Popovic spoke out against the privatisation of the telecoms giant, stressing it is a strategically important company.

Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Council, an independent governmental body, has also voiced objections to the sale. It said on August 18 that selling the government’s 51.18% stake in Telekom Srbija would not be economically justified, or in accordance with current legislation.

Telekom Srbija's privatisation consultant, the international financial advisory and asset management company Lazard Freres, briefed the Serbian government commission on August 12 that eight bidders have completed the conditions for the telco’s privatisation. There is speculation that they include Telekom Slovenije and Russia’s MTS as well as some US investment funds.

According to a statement issued by the ministry of economy, the government’s commission for the telco’s privatisation has already ranked the offers submitted, and drawn up a list of bidders eligible to take part in the second phase of the procedure.