LAST MONTH the Malagasy government’s privatisation committee announced that it had selected the South African joint venture Comazar as preferred bidder to operate the 730 km metre-gauge northern railway on the island of Madagascar. Under the privatisation process started last year, the deal is due to be completed by the end of September.

The government is being advised on the sale by CPCS Transcom of Canada. Bids were invited in December 1998 for a 20-year concession renewable for successive five-year extensions. Technical bids were submitted on April 1, with financial bids following in June.

The intention is to create a new concessionaire company based in Antananarivo, which will be at least 51% owned by the winning bidder for not less than seven years. The remaining shares will be held by Madagascar nationals, with at least 5% reserved for CFM staff. CFM Administrator D Razafindrabe suggested in July that the government may opt to retain a small stake in the concession company.

Mr Razafindrabe indicated in July that privatisation of the island’s isolated southern line would follow the northern deal. The 163 km southern line, known as the Fianarantsoa East Coast Railway, is currently being refurbished by a semi-private consortium backed by USAID and Telecom Malagasy. FCE is currently importing second-hand track and rolling stock from Europe to renovate the line ready for its possible privatisation.