Deputy Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Miro Skrgatic has dismissed speculation that the motorway operator Hrvatske Autoceste (HAC) was about to be privatised and sold to a foreign client.

"I can say responsibly, the privatisation of HAC and its sale on a foreign market is out of the question. But the privatisation of parts of that system, with the Croatian state remaining a majority owner, is hypothetically possible," Skrgatic told members of Parliament on Wednesday.

This cannot be done without the government and the parliament, he said.

Skrgatic's statements were an answer to statements made earlier in the day by MPs from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian People's Party (HNS) during a debate on a government proposal for the parliament to approve an agreement on collateral with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) regarding the financing of a project for the restructuring of HAC.

The collateral agreement refers to a EUR 250 million loan, to be granted in two tranches. The first one, totalling EUR 200 million, would be used to pay the due principal of the existing loans granted by commercial banks and the second one, totalling 50 million, would be used for a programme for the restructuring of labour and financing of capital outlays of HAC's road toll subsidiary, HAC ONC, and to pay the privatisation consultant who provides services to the guarantor, namely the state. A table attached to the document on the collateral agreement shows that the advisor is to receive 3 million euros.

The SDP will support the collateral agreement but will carefully monitor what happens with tranche B in the amount of 50 million euros, said former Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Sinisa Hajdas Doncic of the SDP. The document mentions the financing of a privatisation consultant, and the ministry's reply mentions the privatisation of HAC, which we will seek to prevent, said Hajdas Doncic.

Tranche B was also controversial to the HNS.

It contains an element that we must analyse objectively, there are many dilemmas, said Milorad Batinic of the HNS.

The HDZ is not contesting the need to confirm the loan agreement with the EBRD. It is a necessary and the only logical solution to the situation HAC has found itself in, said Pero Cosic, recalling that the debt of HAC and the Rijeka-Zagreb Motorway operator together amounted to EUR 4.3 billion, of which HAC's debt totalled 3.1 billion.

Skrgatic also explained to MPs why the government wants the agreement to be adopted under urgent procedure - primarily due to the financial situation in the road sector, with debts of the Rijeka-Zagreb Motorway operator amounting to around one billion euros and those of HAC amounting to more than 3 billion euros. Without this important loan, HAC would probably not survive the next quarter and the request that it be discussed under urgent procedure is entirely justified, said Skrgatic.

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