The South African Competition Commission (the Commission) has recently referred its findings of cartel conduct against Alvern Cables, South Ocean Electric Wire Company (SOEW), Tulisa Cables, and Aberdare Cables who are all suppliers of power cables, to the Competition Tribunal (Tribunal). The Power cables include products such as house wire, surface twin and earth wire and are generally made from, amongst other things, copper, aluminium, polyethylene, steel tape and galvanised wire. These power cables are used to distribute electricity to residential and commercial users.
The Commission found that between 2001 to at least 2010, the firms directly or indirectly fixed the selling prices of power cables to wholesalers, distributors and original equipment manufacturers. The Commission, in its referral, is requesting that the maximum penalty of 10% of the annual turnover of the companies should be imposed.
Acting Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele had some interesting remarks regarding the matter: “We have been working tirelessly to thwart any effort that goes to undermine South Africa’s global position that provides value to businesses. Our steadily growing economy can ill-afford rogue business practices” This from the same individual who defended the right of Government to intervene on the ill-defined “public interest” criterion in high-profile merger investigations, thus subjecting them to lengthy and costly reviews.
It is noteworthy to mention that amongst the affected customers who bought these products, were the Bidvest Group (Voltex Group), ARB Holdings Ltd; Universal Cables (Pty) Ltd, Trinity Cables CC, Powermac, Paragons and South Atlantic Cables and Electrobase. It is a small group of companies, with a great amount of resources, which could mean that civil damages might be instituted if the alleged cartel members are found guilty before the Tribunal.
Furthermore, the first class action matters based on competition law contraventions which are currently before the high courts of South Africa will be finalsised by the time the cable cartel proceedings have been finalised before the Tribunal, which means there would be a clear picture of the situation where distributors and end consumers institute damages claims simultaneously against the same parties.