EXCLUSIVE-Poland to get higher payouts from state firms-document
(Adds quotes from deputy minister, context, PZU share price)
WARSAW, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Poland has increased the amount it will collect in dividends from state-controlled firms this year by almost one fifth, documents seen by Reuters showed, the latest move to fill a budget gap at the expense of blue-chip companies.
Some investors accuse the government of a heavy-handed approach to dividends, which deprives the country's biggest companies such as insurer PZU, lender PKO or copper miner KGHM of funds to invest in their businesses.
They say it is part of a wider pattern of the state asserting more influence over companies it controls.
Confronted by slowing economies, other countries in ex-Communist eastern Europe have also shifted more of the burden for funding the state onto businesses. The trend in Poland is especially striking because it has a reputation as a model for liberal, pro-market policies.
The government on Tuesday approved a draft revision to the 2013 budget to reflect the fact that revenue is lower than expected because of the economic slowdown. The budget gap increased to 51 billion zlotys from 35 billion last year.
The revised budget has not been made public, but Reuters has seen a copy that showed the finance ministry aims to collect 6.9 billion zlotys ($2.2 billion) in dividend income, around 1 billion more than in the original 2013 budget.
The treasury ministry said it could seek special interim dividends to add to the approximately 5.5 billion zlotys in payouts company shareholders have already approved.
It did not elaborate on which companies would pay the special dividends or how big they would be.
Commenting on government policy, a fund manager at one of Poland's top pension funds who is invested in state-backed firms said: "I worry about the increasingly aggressive government that once was proud of its liberal approach to the market."
The ministry, which oversees state assets, says it is still pro-business. "Our goal is not to drain the companies and be predatory, but to take care of the value of the companies in a certain time-frame," Deputy Treasury Minister Pawel Tamborski said in June.
Investors and analysts point to a series of other steps they say have the effect of increasing state influence over big businesses:
* The treasury ministry has changed the corporate statutes of its main listed firms to give itself a more dominant voice at the expense of minority shareholders, even as it cuts its holdings. "We're especially concerned with the changes to statutes that limit the voice of minority shareholders," said the pension fund manager.
* The government has leaned on utility PGE to reconsider its decision not to build a power plant the company deems unprofitable. The government views the power plant as a strategic priority.
* It has exerted pressure on several state firms to invest in shale gas exploration, although the commercial prospects are uncertain and some of the firms have no background in energy exploration.
* The government is preparing a reform of the state pension system which could involve transferring some assets from private funds into a state-run vehicle.
The Polish government earned 4.5 billion zlotys from dividends in 2010, rising to 5.2 billion zlotys in 2011 and 7.8 billion zlotys last year.
The shareholders of deep-pocketed PZU have already agreed a dividend of 2.56 billion zlotys, or nearly its entire 2012 profit, of which 900 million zlotys flowed to state coffers.
PZU shares, which have risen by a fifth over the last month on speculation it would have to pay an interim dividend later this year, gained 2.6 percent on Wednesday. The insurer's management have previously denied such plans.
Short-term investors cheer plans for dividends, which mean quick cash payouts, while long-term players worry they could hurt future growth.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Krajewski and Marcin Goettig; Editing by Christian Lowe and Erica Billingham)