Friday, 29 November 2013

Crumbling King Coal - Katowice

Shot from the train from Wrocław to Katowice... scenes like this I associate with the early years of political and economic transformation in Poland, and yet, here we are, nearly a decade into EU membership, and yet this is the image that visitors get of Poland's coal mining heartland.

One would think that high global prices for scrap iron and steel, driven by China's insatiable appetite for raw materials, coupled with developers' desire for prime brownfield sites by the railway tracks (with EU funds available for redevelopment) would have cleared this mess years ago.

This is the Kleofas coal mine, closed down in 2004. It is part of Katowicki Holding Węglowy, a state-owned company. Poland's equivalent of the National Audit Office, NIK, was scathing about KHW in a report published this year - criticising the company for numerous occasions on which squandered public money on jollies for trade unionists, foreign trips, gifts and alcohol.

What's state-owned is nobody's, no one is in a hurry to get things done. Keep the gravy train rolling, jobs for the boys, whether those jobs add value to the economy or not. It is a wonder that so many companies remain state-owned in Poland, considering the contrast between the efficiency of privately-owned and what is still administered by the state treasury.

When there's a general lack of public money for healthcare or nursery education, why is taxpayers' money being spent on these dinosaurs?

High time to get to grips with these industries and clean up Katowice (where people still burn coal to keep their tenements warm, with resultant clouds of black smoke billowing all over the city centre).

Scenes like this project a poor image of the country to passing rail passengers. The Ministry of the State Treasury should step in to move things along at a faster pace.

This time last year:
Street cries of Old Poland

This time two years ago:
The gorgeousness of Warsaw at dusk

This time three years ago:
I'm so glad I'm living in Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Candid photography

This time five years ago:
Archival photos of Jeziorki's Rampa in action

This time six years ago:
Red sky in the morning...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Crumbling King Coal - Katowice":

Are any Polish state owned companies well run? Some seem quite successful - PKP Cargo, KGHM and a few others.

In Britain, the power, water, telecoms, rail sectors are almost exclusively state owned.

Just not owned by the British state.

But by the German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Saudi Arabian etc. states.

Who has it right?

Surely the cure for bad management is to replace it with good management, and not simply destroy the company for dogmatic reasons.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon -

A good point about state-owned firms buying out privatised UK ones.

My main worry about Polish state-owned enterprises is the tendency for political parties to insert their placemen into senior positions for which they have neither the experience nor the expertise. I have seen this time and time again - it breeds frustration among younger managers who are held back by incompetent placemen who have no real idea.

State-owned enterprises managed by managers on the basis on their merit, rather than party affiliation, is clearly the ideal.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"State-owned enterprises managed by managers on the basis on their merit, rather than party affiliation, is clearly the ideal"

I've got the impression that this is more common these days, at least in some parties.

My Varsovian cousin in 1990 told me that it wouldn't be until people like his 6 year old son were in charge would business be "fair" in Poland.

That time is now.

Anon as before (H)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon (H)

Your nephew is 29; his generation is not in charge yet - but will be soon. What's worrying is that although they have the right attitudes, they are still being held back by those thinking the old way.

"At least in some parties" - I must confess to being shocked about the goings-on in Lower Silesian PO and the jobs-for-the-boys scandal in KGHM. I also thought this was a well-run company (I still believe that in the main it is, but that political appointees get foisted on these firms against their management's will). But PSL is still one great pork barrel (I could name two examples very close to home that I know about but won't).

student SGH said...

Was in Katowice in business in September this year and got about Górny Śląsk and was spared such sights.

I only wonder why Cracow has bigger problems with air contamination than the entire Silesian agglomeration...

Michael Dembinski said...

@ student SGH

I guess this is the exception that proves the rule that Poland has indeed advanced a long way since 1989!

Krakow... it still has a functioning steelworks in Nova Hooter?