Privatization in Transition Economies: The Ongoing Story: Volume 90

Cover of Privatization in Transition Economies: The Ongoing Story

Table of contents

(11 chapters)

In 1993, the author labeled “Privatization: The Theme of the 1990s.”1 This may or may not be true in the developing world but it was certainly accurate for the CEE and the CIS. Privatization was central to the structural reform that has taken place in the region and it is central to the creation of a market economy.

This chapter is intended to provide the reader with information and insights on the transition or transformation from socialism to a market economy in what are generally termed the transition economies. This includes countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), sometimes referred to as the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the South East European (SEE) countries, sometimes referred to as the Balkans and the major socialist economy of Asia, China. The chapter covers the critical years of reform for most of these countries, from 1990 to 2000. Some transition economies started reforming earlier, such as China which has continued state-owned enterprise (SOE) reforms to the present time. Other transition countries, primarily the SEE economies, lagged due to the conflict which raged throughout most of the region and the period of isolation which followed, particularly for Serbia. China and Serbia are sui generis for a number of reasons. They will be referenced as examples in this chapter, but they will not form part of the core statistical and data analysis.

This chapter analyzes the early post-transition privatization and enterprise reform efforts of three major countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia (subsequently the Czech Republic), and the Soviet Union (subsequently Russia). For each, it discusses the prevailing ideologies of key decision makers and their external advisors prior to and during the transition process, the initial conditions faced by reformers and advisors, the policy frameworks that evolved, the results achieved, the mistakes made, and the opportunities missed. The ultimate conclusion is that while privatization could have and probably should have been done better, it nonetheless had to be done. The Czech Republic and Russia, and others in the region, are better off after the flawed privatizations they carried out than they would have been had they avoided or delayed divestiture. Poland, which did quite well at first in the absence of mass and rapid privatization, now finds itself burdened with a number of expensive and unproductive state firms. This chapter shows how and why these outcomes came about, and discusses the role of external advisors in the process.

The distribution of state property to the private sector has always been and will continue to be intensely political. Relinquishing hiring, production, investment, and other enterprise decisions constitute a significant loss of potential rents to those who exercise control rights in state-owned enterprises. Additionally, the large transfer of wealth that privatization on a large-scale entails, combined with the potential for unemployment, loss of access to enterprise-based social services (which were substantial in state-socialist economies) threatens to undermine public support for privatization and reform in general.

In the mid-1970s, China's economy had only two forms of public ownership: state ownership and collective ownership. In the agricultural sector, virtually all production was organized into collectively owned Production Brigades (villages) and People's Communes (townships or groups). In industry, SOEs accounted for 80% of total industrial output, with the remaining 20% shared by urban and rural collectives. By the late 1990s, SOEs and collectives accounted for less than 50% of GDP (International Finance Corporation, 2000; p. 18). Transformation of the ownership of production has undoubtedly been one of the key components of China's successful reform program. This has been achieved through combined efforts: privatization of agricultural production on collectively owned land; new entry of collectively owned industrial enterprises, especially township and village enterprises (TVEs), and their subsequent privatization; new entry of foreign-invested and domestic private enterprises; and ownership transformation of existing SOEs (Mako & Zhang, 2003).

The first step in the reform of the Romanian enterprise sector after the collapse of communism was the commercialization of state enterprises. This was completed by 1991. Two types of enterprises were established: regies autonomes and commercial companies. The regies autonomes were legal entities with the social capital owned by the state. This legal status was restricted to enterprises that were “natural monopolies or of public interest or essential for national defense and security.” The governance of regies autonomes of national importance was the responsibility of the ministries, while the governance of regional regies autonomes was devolved to local authorities. The commercial companies were mainly joint stock corporations and about 6,300 of them were incorporated between 1990 and 1991. Their social capital was split between the state-ownership fund (SOF) and five private-ownership funds (POFs, latter called PIFs). Table 1 presents the structure of state holdings at the beginning of privatization in 1992.

Two factors explain why the Serbian privatization experience deserves close attention from outside world. First, Serbia's starting conditions for privatization, with a historical tradition of workers’ management, strong trade unions, and an ambivalent initial attitude toward privatization, have as much in common with circumstances surrounding privatization in the developing countries as with those in the so-called economies in transition. Second, Serbia embarked on a resolute privatization path only in 2001, following more than 10 years of diverse privatization efforts in other post-socialist economies of the region. This makes Serbia a perfect case study of how a country can learn from the experience (both positive and negative) of other reformers.

Russia's size – both in terms of population and geography, spanning 11 time zones, 89 oblasts (states or regions) and autonomous republics and its privatization program, encompassing some 100,000 small-scale enterprises, 25,000 medium to large firms, and 300 or so of its largest firms, made its privatization program the largest sale/transfer of assets conducted among the transition economies, with the possible exception of China. Comparisons by many of the program's critics, and there are many, to Poland, Hungary, or the Czech republic are invidious, especially the latter two countries whose populations are similar to just that of greater Moscow.

In theory, the method employed to transfer ownership from public to private hands is a secondary concern. But when the legal-institutional environment is weak, the method of sale matters greatly. The experiences of the transition economies have taught us that different forms of sales methods produce very different types of owners, who vary greatly in their commitment to, and ability to carry out restructuring (meaning the changes required to allow the firm to survive in a competitive market setting). The method of privatization is thus an important factor in determining1 an efficient allocation of ownership rights.

Mirko Cvetkovic is currently Minister of Finance of the Republic of Serbia. Previously, Mr. Cvetkovic ran his own consulting and advisory firm in Belgrade. Prior to that, he was the Deputy Minister of Economy and the Director of the Serbian Privatization Agency. Mr. Cvetkovic was deeply involved in formulating the country's privatization strategy, its regulations and subsequently in implementing this strategy. As Director of Serbia's Privatization Agency, he was directly responsible for divesting a large number of socially owned companies through auction, tender and restructuring/privatization. Mr. Cvetkovic also had a significant role in drafting the Serbian Bankruptcy Law.

Cover of Privatization in Transition Economies: The Ongoing Story
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Contemporary Studies in Economic and Financial Analysis
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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