January 13, 2015 / 12:26 PM / 5 years ago

Austria tightens hold over partly state-owned companies

VIENNA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Austria will tighten its grip on partly state-owned companies after agreeing to revamp the agency that oversees government holdings in enterprises such as energy group OMV, Telekom Austria and Austrian Post .

The reforms, approved by the cabinet and set to pass parliament in March, will shake up the agency’s governance structure that had given it a lot of autonomy.

The new-look agency, the Austrian State and Industrial Holding Ltd, will replace the old state holding company OIAG, which fell foul of politicians due to some high-profile disputes at OMV and Telekom Austria.

OIAG Chief Executive Rudolf Kemmler, who is leaving this year, was criticised for his handling of a boardroom dispute at OMV and for handing effective control of Telekom Austria to Carlos Slim’s America Movil.

Deputy Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner told reporters the move was not intended to politicise state-controlled companies but said: “If the state is the owner, then the state should exercise its responsibility in an appropriate way.”

The managing director of the new OBIB agency will report to the finance minister and uphold the interests of the state. He or she will not sit on the supervisory boards of companies under partial state control as was the case under the old system.

The new agency will not have its own supervisory board but rather a government-controlled advisory panel that will nominate board members for OMV, Telekom Austria and Austrian Post.

Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling told reporters the agency would able to buy stakes, such as the Austrian Mint’s stake in gaming group Casinos Austria. Ministers could also propose moving other businesses under the new agency’s control.

It can also sell stakes, but Andreas Schieder, parliamentary leader of the senior coalition partner Social Democrats, said he saw no point in doing so at this stage. The state should instead focus on using such enterprises to help promote technology and secure jobs, he said.

The state has a 52.9 percent stake in Austrian Post, 31.5 percent of OMV and 28.4 percent of Telekom Austria. (Reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Michael Shields. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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