Michael Taft: Whatever about the case-by-case merits of the Government’s announcement today regarding the sell-off of state assets, we should be clear: the EU-IMF Memorandum of Understanding does not require privatisation, in whole or in part. In addition, the discussion of the sale of state assets in the Memorandum does not take place in the fiscal section but rather in the section regarding obstacles to competitiveness. In other words, if there is to be a sale of state assets, the objective is not to write down debt but to improve competitiveness. Indeed, it is hardly likely that the Troika would demand that state assets be sold in order to reduce the projected debt of 115 percent in 2015 down to 114 percent (which is what the Government’s announcement today would do).
The quarterly reviews conducted by the Troika make it clear that the provision for selling state assets did not come from them – it came from the Government and its Programme for Government. And it was Fine Gael that was the driver of the privatisation provision in the Programme – Labour campaigned against privatisation in the last general election.
What we have had is an elaborate choreography around the issue of privatisation, shifting blame and inventing targets which have had the effect of obfuscating the issue. Nonetheless, this should not blind us to where the demand for privatisation is coming from. Senator Shane Ross, writing about the meeting between the Troika and the Technical Group of TDs, reported this exchange on the subject:
‘The troika delegates insisted that they had not prescribed any privatisations. They wanted to see certain semi-states "restructured" and competition in the market. Contrary to media perceptions, they were not pressing the Government to raise any specific amount from the sale of State assets. The figures in the public arena of between €2bn and €6bn did not come from them.’
That this is confirmed by Sinn Fein, from their meeting with the Troika, only reinforces this point.
The demand for privatisation – and the paying down of debt – does not come from the Troika. It comes from our own Government.
For a detailed overview of this issue you can read this post I wrote back in October.