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Date: Sun, 04 Feb 1996 14:13:08 -0500 (EST)
From: CBROWN@zodiac.rutgers.edu
Subject: Congo Strikes Against Privatization
To: Afrlabor@acuvax.acu.edu
Message-ID: <01I0TGS5LXDUBEVIE7@zodiac.rutgers.edu>

/* Written 6:33 PM Jan 30, 1996 by labornews in igc:labr.global */
/* ---------- "Congo Unions Fighting Privatization" ---------- */
From: Institute for Global Communications <labornews@igc.apc.org>

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Unions Fail to Stop Privatisation Train

By Louis Okamba, IPS, 25 January 1996

BRAZZAVILLE, 25 Jan (IPS) - Congo's government has vowed to go ahead with a plan to sell six major state enterprises despite stiff opposition from unions representing the utilities' workers.

"The privatisations cannot be avoided," Prime Minister Joachim Yhombi-Opango told IPS. "They have to be done because the state has proved to be a poor manager."

Under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Congo's government decided in August 1994 to auction off state firms that have remained largely unproductive despite huge injections of state funds.

Heading the list are the National Water Company (SNDE), the National Electricity Corporation (SNE), the Congolese Refinery (CORAF), the National Post and Telecommunications Company (ONPT), HYDROCONGO (an oil distribution utility) and the Trans-Congolese Communication Agency (ATC).

The move towards privatisation went into high gear on Jan. 17, when the state dismissed the managing directors of the six, accusing them of gross mismanagement.

Workers reacted three days later with a protest strike, which interrupted Brazzaville's water and electricity supply. The protesters also cut telephone cables, while one of HYDROCONGO's oil depots was destroyed.

The government's response was swift. On Monday, it ordered the strikers to return to work immediately and accused their leaders of inciting them to sabotage state property.

Police arrested four of the unionists on Monday and they have been denied bail pending a court hearing set for Jan. 31. Other union leaders sought by the police in connection with the strike were reportedly in hiding.

On Tuesday, 122 employees of the HYDRO-CONGO and the post and telecommunications, water and electricity companies who, unlike the bulk of the strikers, had refused to return to work the previous day, were fired.

The unions charge that the government has demonstrated a "lack of tranparency" in its handling of the privatisations and some of them appear convinced that there was trickery afoot.

"Really and truly, the people who are lining up to buy over the companies up for sale are none other than members of the government," Medard Ondzongo of the Post and Telecommunications Workers Federation (FESYPOSTEL) said over the weekend.

"I just can't understand the government's deliberate lack of clarity on the privatisations. To this day, it has not published the list of would-be buyers," added Ondzongo, one of four union leaders imprisoned since Monday.

Louis Gondou, head of the Workers Trade Union Confederation of Congo (CTSC), accused the government of acting in bad faith and against national interest.

"The government constantly auctions off the nation's patrimony and continues to disregard the workers' interest," said Gondou, whose federation is the second largest labour umbrella here, the biggest being the Congolese Trade Union Confederation (CSC), which is linked to the government.

"What is happening today with these six companies is the continuation of a negative policy that has proved its worth with the attempts made since 1992 to sell the Commercial Bank of Congo. About 600 workers have been laid off there and they are still waiting desperately to receive their terminal benefits," Gondou charged.

But the government has vowed to press on with the privatisations, which it aims to finalise by a mid-year deadline set by the IMF in September last. It says it has been forced to sell the six because they are in a state of total collapse.

Between 1982 and 1986, the state committed about 300 billion CFA francs (about one billion U.S. dollars at the then rate) to salvaging them, but to no avail. The firms still have huge deficits and they are still overstaffed. In fact, since 1991, they have increased their expenditure on salaries by an average 50 percent, whereas their production capacity has remained weak.

The ATC, for example, spent 18 billion CFA francs (about 39.5 million dollars) on salaries for its 7,200 employees in 1995, but its gross receipts amounted to just 15 billion CFA (33 million dollars).

The ONPT's 1995 turnover, estimated at 832 million CFA (1.82 million dollars), was way below the some four billion CFA (8.8 million dollars) it paid out in salaries last year. Moreover, it has debts in excess of 27 million dollars.

"For 30 years we have poorly administered these firms," Yhomby-Opango told IPS Wednesday. "Why not hand over their management to people who are more capable than we so as to get the country out of the trough it is in.

"Which Congolese today has forgotten the oil shortages they have suffered in a country that is an oil producer?" he added. "Who has forgotten the sudden power cuts, water shortages, telephone cuts, and especially the high bills, which are often bogus?

"We have to put an end to this situation. This shameless exploitation of the Congolese taxpayer has to stop."

On Wednesday his government handed over the running of four of the six companies to Western management and accounting consultancy firms -- including PARIBAS of France and Price Waterhouse --pending their privatisation.

The interim management contracts will be paid for from a nine- million-dollar credit which the International Development Association (IDA -- the World Bank's soft-loan arm) granted Congo in September to finance the privatisation process.

Origin: Harare/CONGO-ECONOMY/

[c] 1995, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)

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