Merida, August 15, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The government of Nicolas Maduro has approved the sale of public assets of the National Civil Aeronautical Institute (INAC) and the Integrated System of Land Transport (SITSSA), stoking fears of further privatisation of vital Venezuelan state services.
The move was made known in the official gazette of August 1, which stated that “The Tendering Committee shall hereby be constituted for the sale and transfer of public assets” belonging to both SITSSA and the INAC.
It is not clear at this point if the measure points to a complete privatisation of the public companies, or the selling off of isolated assets belonging to them, such as damaged buses, office equipment, or properties whilst retaining the public nature of the firms.
The decision, which became public only days before the terrorist attack targeting President Maduro, is yet to be picked up by Venezuelan press and neither the government, SITSSA, nor the INAC have made statements on the issue to date.
INAC oversees Venezuela’s civil aeronautics industry, issuing flight permits for commercial and private flights as well as “regulating, auditing, and supervising” all civil aeronautical activities. Founded in 2001, the institute currently is part of the Ministry for Transport and Public Works.
For its part, SITSSA, which was founded in 2007, is administered by the Ministry for Land Transport and has been the government’s flagship project in expanding the state-run national and local public transport lines.
Users often refer to the SITSSA system as the “red buses.” The state company offer highly subsidised fares and covers important, high-volume commuter routes often ignored by the private transport system.
SITSSA’s administration has recently expanded the number of routes offered by the firm in addition to culminating a bus assembly factory in Yaracuy state, eliminating the need to import the Chinese Yutong buses.
It has been the most successful program of the Transport Mission which, with a recent national census of transport, is looking to provide public solutions to an increasingly chaotic and overstretched private transport system. Whilst no data is available on the number of SITSSA users, high numbers of Venezuelans, especially in poorer sectors where SITSSA routes are concentrated, depend on the service.
A series of recent sell-offs of under-productive and deficit-prone public companies, including the Bicentenario supermarket chain and a state-run fishing company, has concerned Venezuela’s leftist forces, who worry that the developments may portend a return to the neoliberal policies. Maduro has frequently referred to himself as a “socialist” president, and his allies claim that privatisation is incompatible with his government’s proclaimed push towards socialism.
Despite Venezuelan labor law outlawing mass layoffs and guaranteeing employment security, privatisations have cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future of the thousands of Venezuelans employed in these state enterprises.
Under-investment in the state sector has led public sector employees in a number of areas, including electrical workers and nurses, to engage in workplace action in recent months in a bid to improve work conditions amid a deep economic crisis that continues to grip the South American country.