By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government, making final preparations for the sale of the four national power utilities, has postponed a decision on the only Russian bid pending the submission of additional bidding documents.
A government commission handling the planned sell-off was initially due to rule by September 27 whether or not to select the Russian energy giant RAO UES for the final phase of the international tender. But the decision has been twice put off because the company’s preliminary proposals did not contain all necessary information in line with the tender requirements.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian confirmed on Wednesday “the absence of some documents” from RAO UES’s package. Markarian, who formally heads the tender commission, said some of the relevant data contained in the submitted documents “require further clarification.” The comments were made at a meeting between the commission members and representatives of Western donor states and organizations closely monitoring the repeatedly delayed privatization of the Armenian energy sector.
RAO UES is the only Russian company to have filed proposals for the first “pre-qualification” stage of the bidding. Two other Russian firms, Gazprom and ITERA, unexpectedly pulled out of the contest last month.
Sources close to the tender told RFE/RL that the management of RAO UES is particularly reluctant to unveil an internationally certified audit of its operations on the grounds of its confidentiality. But the World Bank and other donors insist that such data is vital for determining bidders’ financial situation and ability to inject badly needed capital into Armenia’s power distribution networks.
Some Armenian media have speculated that the victory of RAO UES became a forgone conclusion after the Russian and Armenian presidents agreed last month in principle on the repayment of Yerevan’s $90 million debt to Moscow. It is expected that the bulk of the repayment will be in the form of assets in state-run Armenian enterprises. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov is due to arrive in Yerevan later this week to negotiate final details of the scheme. The tender commission is to hold another meeting around that time to discuss the fate of the RAO UES bid.
Markarian sought to reassure the donors that the owners of the electricity distribution networks will be picked on a competitive basis and that the entire process will be “transparent.” He revealed that apart from RAO UES only one foreign firm, the US utility AES Silk Road, has decided to participate in the bidding.