Interview with Professor Moodaliyar marks second in AAT interview series highlighting African enforcers
In the second instalment of our Meet the Enforcers series, we speak with Prof. Kasturi Moodaliyar. An Associate Professor of Competition Law, she is part-time member at the Companies Tribunal; ICASA’s Complaints and Compliance Committee; and the Film and Publication Board Appeal Tribunal. She holds a B.Proc. LLB.LLM.(Natal), M.Phil (Cambridge), and Prog. Economics and Public Finance (UNISA)
As an academic in South Africa, focussing on competition law, how do you perceive the major differences and challenges that developing or younger antitrust-law jurisdictions are faced with, compared to more established ones? Specifically with regards to the Competition Commission, what is your assessment of its strengths and weaknesses?
The Commission has established a credible reputation in the area of anti-cartel enforcement and merger regulation. However, it has been less effective in addressing abuse of dominance. This is a risk as there is increasingly an expectation that the Commission address problems of single firm dominance in concentrated markets in the South African economy. If performance continues to lag in this area it will impact negatively on the perceived effectiveness of the Commission. While under-deterence of abuse of dominance reflects some limitations in the legislation it also highlights the challenge of resource constraints faced by the Commission. Such cases demand extensive legal and economic expertise – a shift of priorities to this area may impact performance of the Commission in areas in which it has traditionally had more success (cartel busting, mergers). The use of complementary tools like market inquiries and advocacy will be important and can asset the Commission – but also places a burden on resources.
Regarding staff turnover: Do you see the personnel turnover in recent history to be of sufficient magnitude to have an impact on the performance of the enforcement agency?
It is a worrying development although there are signs that it is starting to stabilise. Although key executives were lost there are still a number of highly experienced staff at the middle management level within the institution that must be nurtured and developed. Some have moved into executive level positions. This is a positive development but also points to a level go juniority in the executive which may impact on effectiveness. Will watch this space.
On Leadership: Do you consider it a benefit or a hindrance if leadership want to introduce their own philosophy of what competition law should seek to achieve on the agency’s activities during their tenure, or do you think that the law is sufficiently clear, such that leadership should focus on efficient and effective delivery of the service, and leave the interpretation to the Tribunal/courts.
It is natural that any leader will bring their own perspective to the role – this cannot be avoided. However, it will be important for the leadership to ensure that such perspectives do not undermine their objectives in giving effect to the mandate of the Commission – which is set down in the Competition Act. Fortunately there are checks and balances in the adjudicative process (Tribunal, rights of appeal) to ensure that these objectives are not contradicted.
Prioritisation: Every agency has budgetary constraints. What are the factors that you think should be most important in how cases are prioritised, should this be based on the developmental needs to society, particular sectors, or even particular areas of the law. What do you think of the prioritisation of recent Section 8 cases, SAB (10 years on an issue that has been extensively sanitised by foreign agencies), Gold Reef News (de minimis), and Sasol Polymers (niche, with limited potential for downstream beneficiation)?
The Commission’s stated prioritisation principles seem reasonable (as they appear in annual reports). However, there is somewhat of a disjuncture between the principles and the outcomes – particularly with respect to abuse of dominance cases. In fact, the outcomes in respect of anti-cartel enforcement have been largely consistent with the application of the Commission’s prioritisation principles – so credit is deserved here. However, new thinking around prioritisation is needed for abuse of dominance cases. In this regard there needs to be a better integration between the Commissions’s policy and research activity, the use of market inquiries and its advocacy with its planning and actions around enforcement against abuse of dominance.
Do you believe that the Competition Tribunal has a role in relation to broader competition advocacy initiatives in South Africa by way of the decisions made?
Advocacy is primarily a function of the Competition Commission, not the Tribunal. The Tribunal must first and foremost safeguard the integrity of its adjudicative function by ensuring impartiality in its decision making processes. There is no harm done though if the Tribunal makes a contribution to the such initiatives as a bi-product of good decisions.
How important, in your view, is the political independence of competition enforcers?
It is very important if the integrity and effectiveness of the agency is to be upheld.
Comparing merger review in an African jurisdiction (any jurisdiction) with that of other competition enforcement agencies worldwide, where do you see the key differences?
A significant difference does appear to be the elevated status of public interest issues in merger proceedings.
What is your view about the elevation of non-competition assessments above those of pure competition tests in merger review? Is it good for the adjudication of competition matters generally?
It is not a problem in and of itself, and is to be expected given various developmental challenges. However, public interest considerations should not trump core competition concerns. In other words, agencies should strive to achieve consistency between the ‘pure’ competition policy objectives (competitive market structures, efficient outcomes etc) and public interest considerations. However, significant dangers arise when public interest objectives conflict with competition policy objectives. Where there are conflicts, alternative policy mechanisms should be considered so that agencies can focus on core non-conflicting objectives. Otherwise they may end up achieving nothing by trying to please everyone. This also means that the public interest considerations that do fall within the mandate of competition agencies should be carefully circumscribed.
What skills would you encourage regional African practitioners focus in on for purposes of developing antitrust advocacy in the region?
They should build a technocratic and professional staff with strong legal and economic skills. These core functions should also be supported by strong policy research and analysis skills – also of the technocratic professional (rather than political) variety. As an academic in this field I would also encourage ongoing training to strengthen those research, investigative and analytical skills.
Thank you, Professor Moodaliyar.