Wed, May 05, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Employees block privatization

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Chairman of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp Morgan Hwang says the government-set privatization plan will not meet its July deadline

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government-set privatization plan for Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp (台灣菸酒公司) -- the nation's largest alcohol-beverage producer -- is unlikely to meet its July deadline as a result of strong opposition from employees, its chairman, Morgan Hwang (黃營杉), said yesterday.

"It'll be a mission impossible [before July]," Hwang told the Taipei Times yesterday.

The company hasn't earmarked a new timetable to complete the privatization plan, he said.

Hwang, 63, was former director of National Taipei University's Business School, before turning to serve as the first chairman of Taiwan Tobacco after the state-run monopoly was corporatized in July 2002.

He urged the government to facilitate "new strategies to address difficulties arising from executing the privatization plan, including opposition from employees."

Taiwan Tobacco held a company poll last week, allowing its 7,000 employees to voice their opinions on the privatization plan.

With a 90 percent turnout rate, 82 percent of polled respondents cast votes on the proposal to maintain the company as a state-run entity but undertake corporate restructuring.

Only 17 percent of the employees agreed with the government's plan to sell off 51 percent of the company's shares and gradually privatize the company, while another 14 percent approved of the idea of bringing in strategic partners before selling shares to complete the privatization plan, the poll found.

"If state-run enterprises can be further corporatized to strengthen competitiveness, the privatization plan won't be necessary," said Shieh Su-fan (謝史風), spokesman of the Taiwan Tobacco federation union.

Taiwan Tobacco is a spin-off of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau (菸酒公賣局) in July 2002, and the government is hoping to finalize its privatization plan this year.

Refusing to view the privatization plan as the only way to strengthen the company's competitiveness, Shieh yesterday expressed the hope that the government could halt its privatization plan.

He urged President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to honor one of his campaign pledges, ie, to overhaul the government's privatization plans for many major state-run enterprises.

Shieh yesterday backed up his argument by lauding the company's management success after it was corporatized in July 2002.

Taiwan Tobacco, under Hwang's leadership, made NT$6.7 billion in after-tax profits last year, with NT$70 billion in annual revenues and an earning per share (EPS) of more than NT$2. The company also cut its number of employees from some 12,000 people in 1997 to 7,000 now.

According to Hwang, the fact that Taiwan Tabacco is still making a profit also diminishes the company's motive and momentum to push the privatization plan aggressively.

He said that the company saw a 40 percent growth in profits last year from a year earlier.

In response to resistance from employees, the Ministry of Finance had previously insisted that the company's privatization plan should be implemented as scheduled.

But Shih Jun-ji (施俊吉), a research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Social Science, yesterday sided with the employees, saying that any hasty move to privatization without blessing from the employees may cause difficulties and spell failure.

"With or without privatization, Taiwan Tabacco is facing steeper competition as the market opens up, and it has to find ways to cope with this," Shih said.

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