* Eyes privatisation of another 40 firms
* Rules out airlines, telecoms and banks
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, March 29 Ethiopia has accepted bids
worth 2.1 billion birr ($121 million) for seven state-owned
firms, part of a plan to privatise dozens of corporations in the
next three years, it said on Thursday.
The Horn of Africa nation, whose state-dominated economy
ranks among the fastest growing in the world, aims to sell
around 40 enterprises, including several large farms, a winery
and a big hotel.
The Privatisation and Public Enterprise Supervising Agency
accepted an 860 million birr bid from MIDROC Ethiopia for one of
the country's biggest farms, Upper Awash Agro-Industry
Enterprise, said agency spokesman Wondafrash Asefa.
MIDROC Ethiopia is owned by Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire
Mohammed Al Amoudi, who is one of the world's richest men
according to Forbes magazine.
Al Amoudi's other companies Horizon Plantation PLC, National
Mining Corporation and Saudi Star Agricultural Development won
bids for four other firms for a combined 463 million birr ($26.7
million), Wondafrash said.
"The enterprises engage in different sectors, including
agriculture, beverage, construction, printing, textile and
transport. At this time though agriculture enterprises are found
to be more attractive than others," Wondafrash said.
Last year, the government sold its last remaining breweries
Bedele, Harar and Meta Abo to Heineken and Diageo
for a combined $388.3 million.
Ethiopia expects its gross domestic product to grow by more
than 11 percent each year until 2014, while the International
Monetary Fund forecasts a growth rate of 7.5 percent this year
and 5.5 percent next year.
Like other African nations, Ethiopia has embarked on
ambitious infrastructure investment projects to improve its
economic competitiveness, including a multi-billion dollar plan
to scale up energy generation.
Economic experts say the government could fund the
development plans by privatising its five biggest firms. They
include Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Shipping Lines, Ethio
Telecom, the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation, and the Commercial
Bank of Ethiopia.
"Only with a large-scale privatisation program can Ethiopia
achieve many of the objectives," Ethiopia-based research group
Access Capital SC said in an economic outlook report.
A sale of the five firms could generate $7.7 billion, the
group said, while the privatisation of some 81 other state
corporations could rake in another $9.6 billion.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly ruled out
privatisation of the banking and telecommunications sectors,
despite pressure from Western donors to do so.
"Several strategic enterprises in different sections will
remain in government hands, such as Ethiopian Shipping Lines and
another 11 enterprises. They could be privatised once their
strategic importance diminishes" Wondafrash said.
(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Mark Potter)