S. African antitrust watchdog described as “toxic” by insider

south_africa

Trade union NEHAWU’s influence over agency staff cited as reason for departure

According to an excellent piece in the ZA Financial Mail – written by Andile Makholwa* and entitled “Competition Commission Bleeds Staff” – departing Acting Deputy Commissioner Trudi Makhaya has explained in detail her recent decision to leave the antitrust authority, describing a “toxic” work environment there since at least October 2013.  On the staffing front, Acting Commissioner Bonakele is quoted as regretting her departure, saying that “one of his priorities is to repair the fractured relations with senior managers and contain the staff exodus.” In the article, Makhaya is cited as bemoaning the increasing influence of NEHAWU (a powerful trade union) over the agency and its staff.

Ms. Makhaya (photo credit: Financial Mail)

While Ms. Makhaya has had her fair share of agit-prop P.R. published under her name (see, eg., her piece published this piece in the Daily Maverick, entitledThe temptations of neo-volkskapitalisme), her insider revelations of NEHAWU’s unduly high influence over the Commission are particularly interesting.

Many ZA commentators have lamented the increasingly pervasive sway that trade unions have in merger-control talks with the enforcer.  This is especially important in light of South Africa’s merger-control regime having express “public interest criteria” embedded in its legislation.

Two ZA antitrust lessons

  1. The legislation’s social agenda element, combined with the now confirmed unions’ influence over agency staff, may have resulted (and will likely result in the future, if unchecked) in extensive so-called “public-interest” conditions imposed on otherwise unproblematic transactions that pose no pure antitrust issues.
  2. The ZA Competition Commission has received extensive bad press of late.  Now, even insiders speak out about the (personnel, rather than structural) problems that have befallen the agency.  Specialist publications (such as Global Competition Review, which publishes a dedicated review and ranking of government antitrust enforcement agencies, in which the Commission used to fare rather well), as well as practitioners and the courts, may perceive these developments as significant steps backward for an institution that once was lauded as a shining example of developing competition-law authorities.  Even Acting Commissioner Bonakele admits that the authority is “in a rebuilding phase. All I can say is that the commission is losing a key staff member. It’s a setback. When you’re rebuilding an institution you need all hands on deck,” and the minister in chage (Patel) believes the Commission too independent.

 

* The author also wrote an interesting piece on the Competition Commission‘s sectoral health-care inquiry (we reported here and elsewhere) in last week’s FM.

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