* Delays some privatisations by a year
* Splits finance ministry in two
* Government has committed to seek new IMF deal
By Radu Marinas
BUCHAREST, Dec 19 Romania's new government
delayed sales of state assets on Wednesday, going against an
agreement with the International Monetary Fund and raising
doubts over its commitment to a new pact.
Leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who won a Dec. 9
election, had reassured investors by saying he would replace a 5
billion euro IMF deal expiring in early 2013 but the proposals
of his new administration could be an obstacle.
President Traian Basescu has eased concerns over a fresh
political crisis by re-appointing his rival Ponta as premier,
but markets remain on edge given the row between the two men
that has delayed policy and sparked European Union criticism.
Ponta also proposed splitting the country's finance ministry
in two, naming a budget and a finance minister in a division of
responsibilities that could complicate talks with the IMF.
The leu slipped 0.2 percent against the euro on
Wednesday to move away from a three-month high. Other regional
currencies were also slightly weaker.
"This is a very bad signal for investors, who had expected
marked progress in reforming of the state sector this year,
especially privatisations," said Raiffeisen economist Ionut
The IMF has regularly criticised the EU's second-poorest
member for failing to sell and reform its inefficient and
oversized state sector, which is seen as holding back an economy
that is only slowly emerging from a deep recession.
Minority listings in big energy firms like Hidroelectrica,
nuclear power producer Nuclearelectrica, gas producer Romgaz and
energy group Petrom would generate about 1 billion
euros, according to Fondul Proprietatea, a fund set up to
compensate Romanian victims of communism.
The leu is the worst-performing currency in the emerging EU
this year due to Romania's volatile politics, in particular
Ponta's failed attempt to remove President Basescu from office
in July that prompted charges of undermining the rule of law.
Ponta's government still needs parliamentary approval, which
it will almost certainly win on Friday thanks to its
overwhelming majority, but it will then be stuck working with
the rightist Basescu again.
Romania has trimmed its budget deficit, which will probably
fall below 3 percent of gross domestic product this year, but
the IMF has become more critical of its failure to make
longer-term reforms and make better use of EU cash.
So far, it has only made a secondary listing of shares in
electricity grid company Transelectrica, which raised
38 million euros ($50 million).
The new government postponed the deadline for selling
minority stakes in state controlled companies -- including
Romgaz and Nuclearelectrica, as well as freight railway firm CFR
Marfa and airline Tarom -- until the end of 2013.
The sale of a minority stake in gas pipeline operator
Transgaz is also delayed.
"I think the IMF will find a way to give them a programme.
But I wonder how committed they are," said Barclays Capital
economist Daniel Hewitt.
Ponta said the finance ministry split was part of a cabinet
expansion to from 19 to 27 ministers, which will include members
of all three wings of his Social Liberal Union (USL) alliance.
The two men nominated to oversee the budget and finance -
Liviu Voinea and Daniel Chitoiu - were in the previous cabinet.
Ponta did not specify how the previous finance ministry's
responsibilities would be split between them.
"I'm not sure how this structure will be beneficial for
Romania," Raiffeisen's Dumitru said.