The ministry, which is responsible for the privatisation of state assets, is seeking an international retail and commerical bank to lead potential candidates for the 52 per cent stake. Local sources say the sale is likely to elicit a response from several European and regional banks, which stand to benefit from UIB’s 93 branches and offices and its 9 per cent share of the local market.

UIB, which was founded in 1963, suffered severe problems in the early 1990s, but has undergone restructuring with help from Banque Centrale de Tunisie (central bank). In late 2000, plans for a merger of UIB with the UAE/local development bank, Banque de Tunisie & des Emirats d’Investissement (BTEI),were abandoned (MEED 19:1:01). The 12.35 per cent stake in UIB held by BTEI is not for sale. The state’s majority stake in the bank is split between a number of companies and institutions. National flag carrier Tunisairholds a 25 per cent stake, the state’s social security fund, Caisse Nationale de Securite Sociale, owns 13.75 per cent, while state energy company Entreprise Tunisienne d’Activities Petrolieres and the state olive oil company, Office de l’Huile, have a 13 per cent holding each.

At the end of last year, UIB reported net profits of TD 18.2 million ($12 million), up 21 per cent on earnings for the previous year. Total assets rose 13 per cent over the same period to TD 1,700 million ($1,160 million) at the end of 2001.

France’s Rothschild Conseil Internationalis advising the government on the privatisation.