Macedonian govt calls prior foreign investment push 'a show'

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Macedonia's left-wing government accused the country's previous administration Wednesday of secretly squandering more than 150 million euros ($178 million) on attracting foreign investors to special economic zones.

The ambitious program launched by the then-conservative government in 2007 led to the World Bank ranking Macedonia 10th in the world for ease of doing business. It also helped cut unemployment from 37 percent in 2005 to less than 23 percent.

Together with tax and customs exemptions offered to investors, the cost to Macedonian taxpayers has reached 225 million euros ($268 million) since 2007, government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski said.

It was "an economic show policy, not a growth policy," Boshnjakovski said, adding that the current government — in office since May — would fully respect existing deals with investors.

Boshnjakovski told journalists that former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's administration approved all investment deals "in a closed circle, negotiated by ministers, advisers and mediators, without criteria and all data were classified."

The VMRO-DPMNE party that governed Macedonia for a decade rejected the current government's criticism. It said only 50 million euros in state subsidies was provided to all foreign companies in Macedonia over the past 10 years, half of which was to spur investments in the special zones.

Macedonia currently has eight functioning economic zones.

The government plans to publish a new strategy for investment on Thursday that will focus on creating equal opportunities for domestic and foreign investors, Boshnjakovski told the Associated Press.

Direct foreign investments in Macedonia in 2015 and 2016 reached nearly 200 million euros ($238 million.)

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