In an interesting twist, a representative of the last properly remaining centralised economy (the People’s Republic of China) has admonished African nations (specifically South Africa, where he acts as Ambassador) to enhance competition-law enforcement against dominant firms, including Western tech giants.
We observe that his statement is an “interesting” twist, because the Editor was taught over the years in several (perhaps faulty?) history lessons that the PRC itself had been inarguably heavily reliant on government-run monopoly companies for decades.
But let’s cut to the chase of what Mr. Xiaodong is actually saying: his thesis, not exactly ground-breaking in antitrust circles, can be summarised succinctly as “excessive power and influence of technology giants hinder innovation and competition and increases economic inequality.” There!
With regards to the applicability of his thesis to South Africa, the ambassador notes that “Antimonopoly practices also exist in SA. The control over data fees and food prices imposed by big corporations here has safeguarded consumers’ rights and interests. Monopolistic actions in the platform economy is also a matter of grave concern for SA’s Competition Commission. No country can turn a blind eye to the negative externality of the emerging digital economy.”
“Negative externalities…” sound very much like proper Western antitrust-economics-speak. Interesting. However, there is of course an ulterior motive behind this little lesson in competition economics from his excellency, the honorable ambassador. It comes at the end of his “opinion” piece: China would like to do more business in Africa, strengthen its ties, and deepen its influence (including in the area of education – beware!)… In the diplomat’s own words: “China’s high quality economic development brings greater opportunities for Africa’s development. … And China’s current cumulative investment in SA has exceeded $25bn, creating more than 400,000 jobs directly and indirectly in the region and making big contributions to SA’s economic and social development.”
Curious news, perhaps not so much any more after digging deeper. Especially when the interested reader googles (oh yes, coincidentally using that same FAANG company’s services that Mr. Xiadong’s diatribe indirectly disparages here) the simple search term “China – Africa“, the latest news from today’s South China Morning Post is that “China seeks to expand influence in Africa with more digital projects…” — nice coincidence.
The South African Competition Commission (SACC) made headlines with its first prohibition of an intermediate merger that was based solely on public-interest grounds.
Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), a private equity firm founded in the US, was to acquire all Burger King assets from South African Grand Parade Investments, a South African majority black owned entity.
The SACC, while finding that the proposed transaction will have no actual impact on competition, prohibited the transaction on the basis that the transaction will have a substantial negative effect on “the promotion of greater spread of ownership, in particular to increase the levels of ownership by historically disadvantaged persons” (HDPs).
The SACC found that the merger would lead to a 68% reduction in the shareholding of HDPs in the target entity.
As John Oxenham, director at Primerio points out, “public interest” considerations have long been a feature of competition law in South Africa, particularly in relation to merger control. In this regard, mergers, which may otherwise be deemed problematic, could be ‘justified’ on public interest grounds. Public interest, while initially limited to employment, was first informally expanded through notable mergers such as Walmart/Massmart (2011) and AB Inbev/SAB (2016) where public interest conditions were imposed related to empowerment and ownership, through agreement by the merging parties.
The Competition Amendment Act, which largely became effective in 2019, formally expanded the recognised public-interest factors contain in Section 12A(3) of the Competition Act to include the “promotion of a greater spread of ownership, in particular to increase the levels of ownership by historically disadvantaged persons and workers in firms in the market”. Further, the public-interest element was elevated to a separate and self-standing assessment, which must be assessed as an integral part of the merger assessment.
While the Competition Act, as amended, has made provision for mergers to be assessed and prohibited on pure public interest grounds since July 2019, the Burger King merger is the first merger to be prohibited on this basis.
SACC Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele noted that the SACC had no choice but to recommend that the merger be prohibited as, clearly, the merger would result in a reduction of HDP ownership from 68% to 0%, which the SACC believes is substantial. This concern was raised with the merging parties, who were unable to address the concern in a suitable manner.
Regarding the broader impacts of the decision on investment and merger control in South Africa, Bonakele noted that the SACC is merely a statutory agency obliged to impose the law as it currently stands and, according to the Bonakele, there is no uncertainty regarding the transformation objectives which had been introduced to the Competition Act. The SACC is clear on its mandate in terms of the Competition Act, as amended, and will continue to implement such mandate.
The legal basis for the decision is clear, however, as is the case with any new legislation, implementation thereof less so. At the time of the enactment of the amendments to the Competition Act, it was well recognised that the practical implementation of these provisions will be critical and that it may lead to significant unintended consequences – including adverse effects on consumer welfare and even broader public interest. Primerio director, Michael-James Currie points out that, ironically, HDP-owned target firms might be negatively prejudiced by this criterion, as the pool of potential buyers is limited (and hence the value) if non-black owned firms are not able to successful acquire the target’s business.
It is not clear, at this stage, what the assessment in the Burger King merger entailed, what evidence was put forward by the parties and what the relevant counterfactual may have been. It is also not clear whether the transaction presented pro-competitive elements which outweigh the adverse effect on public interest – similar to what is required in terms of public interest where a merger may have an adverse impact on competition. The SACC confirmed, however, that the transaction was ultimately prohibited after ECP failed to adhere to requests to proffer conditions relating to shareholding and empowerment.
The SACC has the power to assess and prohibit intermediate mergers. Accordingly, the SACC’s prohibition can only be challenged by way of a request for consideration, to be filed by the merging parties, to the South African Competition Tribunal. The SACC opined, however, that unless the acquiring firm is prepared to make concession to remedy the public interest concerns, the decision is unlikely to be overturned.
Grand Parade has been vocal in its dissatisfaction of the prohibition. The matter will be highly contested, and it is not uncommon for transactions to be approved on a request for consideration to the Tribunal. Furthermore, any decision by the Tribunal is likely to be taken on appeal to the Competition Appeal Court and likely also the Constitutional Court.
The Burger King decision, regardless of its eventual outcome, will leave a lasting precedent and shape merger control proceedings in South Africa going forward.
On May 24, 2021, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK or Authority) issued a notice to the manufacturers of bread on how to label the breads sold to consumers. The CAK claimed the producers were in contravention of Section 55 of the Competition Act 12 of 2012 (“Act”). Section 55(a)(i) of the Act states that “a person commits an offence when, in trade in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services, he— (a) falsely represents that— (i) goods are of a particular standard, quality, value, grade, composition, style or model or have had a particular history or particular previous use” . The This section found application in, inter alia, relation to the labelling of FMCG such as bread sold to consumers.
The CAK’s first concern was that the labels on the bread were illegible, thereby denying the consumer sufficient information. Second, the producers were directed to adjust the information on the wrappers from “Best before” to “Sell by” to indicate the date of expiration. This adjustment will make this information clearer to the consumers, according to the Authority. Sources close to the investigation stated that bread manufacturers had taken liberties with proper labeling previously and had been ‘mischievous’ with labels, as they initially placed the expiration date on the disposable part of the wrapper, thereby depriving consumers of reliable information after opening the packaging. Thereafter, upon being directed by the regulator that the information should be on the actual bread wrapper, the manufacturers purportedly caused the printing of the information to be illegible.
Regarding the issue of weight and ingredients, the bread manufacturers now have an obligation to indicate the correct weight as well as the ingredients of their breads. It was found that some breads alleged to have milk or butter while in reality they did not. Such conduct by manufactures amount to false information. This is itself a breach of the law under both the Competition Act and the Standards Act.
The CAK has the overarching consumer protection mandate, as provided under the Constitution and the Competition Act of Kenya. While carrying out this consumer protection mandate, the Authority must consult with the Kenya Bureau of Standards in all matters involving definition and specification of goods and the grading of goods by quality. Indeed in 2016, the Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance cooperation with Kenya Bureau of Standards. Section 60 (1) of the Competition Act also makes it an offence for any person to supply goods which do not meet the consumer information standards prescribed by law.
Ruth Mosoti, a competition and consumer protection attorney with Primerio Ltd. in Nairobi, notes that the Authority’s chief “essentially informed the producers that compliance with the law was not a pick-and-choose buffet style option. In this instance, the consumer information standard is defined under the Standards Act and that is why the bread manufacturers have been directed to comply as Authority head Mr. Wang’ombe Kariuki correctly put it.” Kariuki stated: “manufacturers have no latitude to elect which laws to adhere to”. The specific standards in question refer to labeling.
The Authority has taken a soft enforcement approach with a focus on compliance rather than imposing the maximum penalty as prescribed by law. Contraventions of the consumer protection provisions attract a penalty of a maximum of ten million Shillings ($100,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years. One can only assume that the assertion by the Authority that no actual harm to consumers had been recorded yet as a result of the contraventions by the bread manufacturers must have influenced this soft-enforcement approach.
Africa is a continent of 1.2 billion people. From a consumer potential standpoint it matches China or India. Yet historically, it has suffered from the lingering shadows of its colonial past, in addition to its current fractures, hostility, and ever-present corruption.
The continent is emerging fast, however, and is quickly accelerating into the 21st Century marketplace both from an investment and growth opportunity. From the digital revolution and increased free trade, to innovation in various industries, Africa may be the next market frontier to unfold into accelerated multinational presence.
In this podcast episode (available gratis on Apple, Spotify, and Sheppard Mullin‘s web site), Michael P.A. Cohen is joined by Africa competition and markets expert, Andreas Stargard, as he shares his insight to help multinationals navigate the African landscape.
What do the Africa markets look like from a multinational business opportunity perspective?
Which countries in Africa have established markets? Which ones have growth potential?
How and why has China’s investment and influence across Africa intensified over the last couple of decades?
What type of digital revolution is taking place in Africa?
Is there a huge opportunity for mobile money on the continent?
How is free trade shaping up across the African continent? How do the AfCFTA’s goals tie in?
What Free Trade cooperation agreements exist among the East, West and South African nations? Will they succeed?
Where is Africa leading innovations?
How will African wars and corruption impact its ability to grow a multinational marketplace?
Michael Cohenis the creator of the Nota Bene podcast. He began his career as an Assistant Special Prosecutor, investigating and prosecuting organized crime involvement with the failure of local financial institutions in the early 1990s, and has since practiced globally at several top law firms. In 2015, Michael joined Sheppard Mullin’s storied antitrust practice with a goal of putting his 25 years experience to work to complement the firm’s longstanding antitrust litigation group, helping to bridge government antitrust enforcement in Washington, D.C. to the firm’s strengths in Brussels, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
A co-founding senior member of Primerio, a business advisory firm helping companies do business within Africa from a global perspective, Andreas Stargard is legal, strategic, and business advisor to companies and individuals across the globe. He focuses on antitrust and competition advice, white-collar counseling, contract dispute and negotiation, and resolution of global business disputes, including cartel work, corruption allegations and internal investigations, intellectual property, and distribution matters. He has written and spoken extensively on these topics and many others. Andreas also advises clients on corporate compliance programmes that conform to local as well as global government standards, and has handled key strategic merger-notification questions, including evaluation of filing requirements, avoidance strategies, cross-jurisdictional cooperation, and the like.
BREAKING NEWS: The COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) issued new guidance today in relation to its application of previously ambiguous and potentially self-contradictory merger-notification rules under the supra-national COMESA regime. As Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio notes:
“This new Practice Note issued by Dr. Mwemba is an extremely welcome step in clarifying when to notify M&A deals to the COMESA authorities. Specifically, it clears up the confusion as to the meaning of the term ‘to operate’ within the Common Market.
Prior conflicts between the 3 operative documents (the ‘Rules’, ‘Guidelines’, and the ‘Regulations’) had become untenable for practitioners to continue without clear guidance from the CCC, which we have now received. I applaud the Commission for taking this important step in the right direction, aligning its merger procedure with the principles of established best-practice jurisdictions such as the European Union.”
The full text of the new Guidance is as follows:
PRACTICE NOTE ON THE COMMISSION’S APPLICATION OF THE TERM “OPERATE” UNDER THE COMESA COMPETITION REGULATIONS AND THE “APPLICATION OF RULE 4 OF THE RULES ON THE DETERMINATION OF MERGER NOTIFICATION THRESHOLDS AND METHOD OF CALCULATION”
February 11, 2021
CCC – MER – Practice Note 1 of 2021
The COMESA Competition Commission (the “Commission”), having received several queries from merging parties and their legal representatives in relation to the application of certain merger control rules, hereby issues this practice note on its application of the term “operate” under the COMESA Competition Regulations, 2004 (the “Regulations”) and the COMESA Competition Rules, 2004 (the “Rules”) and its approach to the application of Rule 4 of the Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds and Method of Calculation (the “Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds”).
Application of the Term “Operate”
Article 23 of the Regulations establishes the jurisdiction of the Commission to assess cross-border mergers where the term “operate” is central to the application of Article 23 of the Regulations which, inter alia, applies where “…both the acquiring firm and target firm or either the acquiring firm or target firm operate in two or more Member States…”.
The Regulations have not defined the term operate. However, paragraph 3.9 of the COMESA Merger Assessment Guidelines of 2014 (the “Merger Guidelines”) states that an undertaking is considered to operate in a Member State for purposes of Article 23 (3)(a) of the Regulations if its operations in that Member State are substantial enough that a merger can contribute to an appreciable effect on trade between Member States and restrict competition in COMESA. Further, the Merger Guidelines state that “…an undertaking operates in a Member State if its annual turnover or value of assets in that Member State exceeds US$ 5 million…”.
It should be noted that at the time the Merger Guidelines became applicable, the prescribed merger notification thresholds envisaged under Article 23(3)(b) of the Regulation, were set at US$ 0. This effectively meant that all merger transactions satisfying the regional dimension requirement of Article 23 (3)(a) of the Regulations were required to be notified to the Commission, irrespective of the magnitude of the merging parties’ operations in the Common Market. In line with the Regulations’ objectives, the Commission sought to only capture those mergers likely to affect trade between Member States and restrict competition in the Common Market. As a result, the Merger Guidelines attached a quantitative definition to the term ‘operate’, as meaning the turnover or value of asset in a Member State to be at least US$ 5 million.
All stakeholders are hereby informed that following the enactment of the Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds, the definition of ‘operate’ under paragraph 3.9 of the Merger Guidelines in no longer applicable as the Rules take precedence over the Guidelines. In view of this, paragraph 3.9 of the Guidelines has been rendered ineffective with the coming into force of Rule 4 of the Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds. Therefore, for purposes of merger notification in line with Article 23 of the Regulations, all stakeholders should be referring to Rule 4 of the Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds which stipulates that:
“Any merger where both the acquiring firm and target firm, or either the acquiring or the target firm, operate in two or more Member States, shall be notifiable if:
the combined annual turnover or combined value of assets, whichever is higher in the Common Market of all parties to a merger equals to or exceeds US$50 million; and
the annual turnover or value of assets, whichever is higher, in the Common Market of each of at least two of the parties to a merger equals or exceeds US$10 million, unless each of the parties to a merger achieves at least two-thirds of its aggregate turnover or assets in the Common Market within one and the same Member State.”
2. Application of Rule 4 of the Rules on the Determination of Merger Notification Thresholds
Rule 4 applies to merger transactions that satisfy both the “Regional Dimension” and “Notification Thresholds” requirements under Article 23 of the Regulations. Rule 4 is cumulative and must be satisfied entirely before a merger is notified to the Commission. Rule 4 is therefore applied as follows:
Firstly, Regional Dimension must be satisfied. This is contained in the chapeau of Rule 4 which requires the merging parties to operate in at least two COMESA Member States. Further, it gives three alternative scenarios under which merging parties can operate in Member States namely:
Both the acquiring firm and target firm can operate in at least two Member States;
The acquiring firm can operate in at least two Member States, while the target firm can operate only in one Member State; or
The target firm can operate in at least two Member States, while the acquiring firm can operate only in one Member State.
Regional Dimension will therefore be met once any of the three scenarios is satisfied and if they are, the next step is to confirm whether Rule 4(a) is satisfied. Rule 4(a) must be satisfied by confirming that either the combined annual turnover or combined annual assets in the Common Market of all the parties to the merger equals to at least US$ 50 million. The option to use combined annual turnover or combined annual asset shall depend on the higher amount of the two total values.
Assuming the Regional Dimension and Rule 4(a) is satisfied, the next step is to confirm whether the merging parties satisfy Rule 4(b). To satisfy Rule 4(b), it should be demonstrated that the annual turnover or annual asset, whichever is higher, of each of at least two of the parties in the Common Market is at least US$ 10 million. Whether to use annual turnover or annual asset depends on the higher of the two. It should also depend on the measure (turnover or asset) used in Rule 4(a).
As an illustration, assume annual combined turnover is higher than annual combined asset under Rule 4(a). This shall mean annual combined turnover will be adopted under Rule 4(a). Therefore, proceeding to Rule 4(b) shall mean confirming whether the annual turnover of each of at least two of the parties in the Common Market is at least US$ 10 million.
The final step in applying Rule 4 is to confirm if the 2/3 exemption rule holds. Given that Rule 4 must be applied in its entirety, the 2/3 exemption rule must also be read in conjunction with the preceding limbs in establishing the thresholds i.e. Rule 4(a) and Rule 4(b). For both the collective and individual thresholds requirements under Rule 4(a) and 4(b), it is the higher value of the turnover derived or asset value held which must be considered. In this regard, the 2/3 rule is meant to apply once the higher value has been established. It would be contrary to the principles and spirit of the 2/3 rule to rely on a different financial criterion to exempt a notification than the criterion used to establish a notification requirement under first two limbs of Rule 4.
High ginger, garlic and lemon prices have left a sour taste in mouths of South Africans
By Gina Lodolo and Jemma Muller
The exorbitant and rapid increase in prices of ginger, garlic and lemon, that which spans up to 300%, has been the source of much public outcry and regulatory concern over the past few months. The question remains whether the price increases by massive retailers can be justified or whether they should be considered as excessive?
The Consumer and Customer Protection and the National Disaster Regulations and Directions (the “Regulations”), which came into effect in March 2020, were put in place to consider inter alia when a price is excessive. They empower the South African Competition Commission (“SACC”) and National Consumer Commission (“NCC”) to investigate and prosecute cases of price-gouging. Contraventions may result in penalties of up to ZAR 1 million or 10% of annual turnover. According to the NCC, price gouging is defined as “an unfair or unreasonable price increase that does not correspond to or is not equivalent to the increase in the cost of providing that good or service.”
The NCC has launched an investigation under the Consumer Protection Act into potential contraventions of the COVID-19 Regulations against major retailers such as Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite, Spar, Food Lovers market, Cambridge Foods and Boxers Superstores. According to the Regulations, and in terms of section 120(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, a price increase of a goods, including inter alia “basic food and consumer items”, which does not correspond to the increase in cost of supplying such goods, or increases in the net margin or mark-up on the good(s) which exceeds the average margin or mark-up on the said good in the three month period before 1 March 2020 is “unconscionable, unfair, unreasonable and unjust and a supplier is prohibited from effecting such a price increase”.
The preferred tools of the COVID-19 Regulations relating to excessive pricing seem to be predominantly similar to competition policy and its associated institutions. Upon assessing an increase in pricing to determine whether the increase is excessive, the test would be whether the prices were increased due to cost-based increases (such as reduced supply due to an increase in import costs as the domestic currency get weaker) as opposed to price increases only due to a demand increase (such as more consumers buying ginger as an immune booster during the COVID-19 pandemic). When assessing exploitative conduct, it is more likely to establish that there has been an abuse of dominance when a firm is dominant or enjoys great market power.
It has appeared that the trend in the increase of ginger and garlic retail prices is that the allegedly exploitative conduct no longer originates from only one dominant player as such (eg. only Spar) but rather affects shops in the whole of South Africa. The price increases have sparked outrage with consumers who are driving shop-to-shop in an attempt to purchase ginger or garlic at a lower, or somewhat ‘standard’ pre-COVID-19, price.
As stated above, increasing prices will be seen as excessive when the increase is due only to an increase in demand. Retailers have claimed that the increase is not only because of rising demand but also due to an actual decrease in the product supply. It is therefore pertinent to determine the extent to which the supply has been reduced in relation to the increased demand. This would require a proportionality balance, as shops would have to prove to the competition authorities that the increase of pricing is only due to the decrease in supply. Extortionary pricing above and beyond that would demonstrate an increase of pricing due to the increase of demand, and as such would fall foul of the Competition Act and the Regulations cited above.
The rising prices in garlic and ginger have been on the SACC’s radar since July 2020, when it concluded a consent agreement with Food Lovers Holdings whereby the retailer agreed to immediately halt excessively pricing its ginger products at one of its stores. Notwithstanding this fact, the subsequent regulation and enforcement of ginger and garlic prices by the SACC under Regulations has become somewhat tricky due to the fact that the products are not considered to be essential products under the COVID-19 Regulations.
The SACC previously found that the increases in prices were largely attributed to the rise in costs experienced by retailers and they found no evidence of price gouging targeted at taking advantage of the constrained mobility of consumers or shortages during the pandemic. What the SACC found to be concerning, however, were the high pre-disaster margins on products such as ginger and garlic, which have largely been maintained throughout the pandemic by retailers raising their prices for the goods as the costs were increasing. Accordingly, as mentioned above, although the SACC did not find evidence of price gouging, it did find possible contraventions of the Consumer Protection Act and as such, referred the potential contraventions to the NCC to investigate further.
A spokesperson for the SACC, Siyabulela Makunga has stated the following:
“We also appreciate the changes in demand for garlic and ginger, but it is our view the price of ginger and garlic have [sic] increased astronomically at retailers. We don’t think that the increased demand in ginger justified the price of up to R400 a kilogram…”
John Oxenham, an R.S.A. competition lawyer with Primerio Ltd., notes that “the prosecution of the matter demonstrates the respective authorities’ commitment to priority sectors and an unbridled effort to root out any form of price-gouging.”
To conclude, market power of the implicated retailors has likely been increased due to the reduced availability of substitutes for customers as a majority of retailers have introduced a dramatic price increase. The investigation launched by the NCC is, however, a step in the right direction to protect consumers who have been left with very limited choices in the widespread steep increase in price of ginger and garlic.
Following the (thus far rarely used) “Block Exemption” procedure under Section 30 (2) of the Kenyan Competition Act, the Competition Authority of Kenya (“CAK”) has proposed a new set of draft Guidelines as to competitor collaborations during the COVID-19 pandemic, so as to assist with the country’s economic recovery efforts. It specifies five (5) focus sectors, namely Manufacturing, Private Healthcare, Aviation, Travel & Hospitality, and Health Research. The Guidelines are ostensibly inapplicable to firms that engage in economic activity outside these five sectors.
In issuing its soon-to-be finalized guidance, the CAK wishes to provide “direction to undertakings in making a self-assessment as to whether the agreements, decisions or practices which they intend entering into will qualify for block exemption within the Covid-19 Economic Recovery Context without the need to seek the Authority’s intervention.” (A.(4))
A key aspect, in the view of antitrust litigator Andreas Stargard, is the renewed attention given to “public-interest factors” in competition law.
He believes that this concession to non-traditional competition-law theory is “necessitated by the broad economic havoc COVID-19 has wrought, including on historically peripheral-to-antitrust aspects such as overall employment, public health, en masse business closures, and the like, which would normally not be highly relevant factors in the strict sense of conducting a rigorous competition-law analysis.”
Stargard continues that “Condition III of the CAK’s so-called ‘Self-Assessment Principles‘ expressly highlights this element, namely forcing firms to evaluate whether their proposed collaboration with competitive entities is ‘in the public interest, such as creation of employment’,” citing para. 11(vii) of the draft Block Exemption Guidelines on Certain Covid-19 Economic Recovery Priority Sectors.
The concept of non-competition factors (i.e., the public-interest element) was also raised, as there is a “growing debate on whether the pandemic may necessitate changes in [the] substantive assessment of mergers, e.g., towards more lenient consideration of failing firms.”
As Andreas Stargard observes, “just as COVID-19 is truly global, Kenya and COMESA are likewise not alone in their quest to master the difficult balancing act between sufficiently enforcing their domestic or regional antitrust laws versus allowing reasonable accommodations to be made for necessary competitor collaborations in light of the pandemic’s impact. Indeed, other enforcers have also made accommodations for such unusual collaborative efforts, given the emergency nature of the pandemic.”
In the U.S., the federal antitrust agencies have issued analogous guidance for competitors, issuing a joint guidance document specifically on health-care providers collaborating on necessary public-health initiatives. What stands out is the agencies’ express invitation for health-care players to take advantage of the (now-expedited to 7 days’ turnaround time) business-review/opinion-letter procedures. Mr. Stargard notes however that, unlike the Kenyan proposal of “self-assessment“by the affected entities, the American approach still necessitates an affirmative approach of the enforcers by the parties, seeking official sanctioning of their proposed cooperation by submitting a detailed explanation of the planned conduct, together with its rationale and expected likely effects.
By way of further example, in Canada, as the OECD notes, the government “has developed a ‘whole-of-government action’ based on seven guiding principles including collaboration. This principle calls on all levels of government and stakeholders to work in partnership to generate an effective and coherent response. These principles build on lessons learned from past events, particularly the 2003 SARS outbreak, which led to dedicated legislation, plans, infrastructure, and resources to help ensure that the country would be well prepared to detect and respond to a future pandemic outbreak.”
As of January 1st, 2021, Kenya’s competition-law enforcer, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK), started benefitting from its new “Informant Reward Scheme” (IRS). The IRS encourages “confidential informants” — often also referred to as “whistleblowers” — privy to inside information about antitrust offenses to come forward and report the illicit conduct to the Authority.
The IRS incentivizes informants with promises of anonymity as well as — rather modest, as we will see — monetary rewards: the CAK vows to maintain the confidentiality of the informant’s identity, and provides for up to Sh1,000,000 (approximately US$9,100 at today’s Fx rate).
Andreas Stargard, a competition lawyer active on the African continent, has delved more deeply into the CAK’s enabling “Guidelines” document, trying to ascertain the precise contours of the IRS program. He reports as follows:
AfricanAntitrust.com: “Who is eligible to participate in the IRS?”
Andreas Stargard: “What we know from the implementing Guidelines, and also from Director General Kariuki‘s speech on the IRS, is that only third parties or those individuals playing merely a remote and peripheral role in relation to the anti-competitive conduct are eligible to benefit from the IRS. This means that a 3rd-party customer, or a non-executive employee such as a secretary or copy clerk of the offending company, may report wrongdoing under the IRS.”
AAT: “What about insiders with executive authority, then?”
Stargard: “Similar to Western countries’ antitrust regimes, those individuals can still report illicit conduct by their employers, but they would have to resort to the Kenyan leniency process as opposed to the Informant Reward Scheme.”
AAT: “Understood. Are there other, similar whistleblower schemes in existence?”
Stargard: “Yes. We recently held a very timely webinar with leading international and African experts on the topic of whistleblowing, which I moderated. A recording of it is available on the web. Whistleblowing has become an important piece of the enforcement puzzle for many governmental authorities around the globe, not only on competition issues. In Kenya, specifically, President Kenyatta recently doubled the rewards for tax-fraud whistleblowers, who are now entitled to receive up to Sh5,000,000 ($45,000), and the country’s revenue service implemented the so-called iWhistle portal to allow informants to report tax fraud anonymously.”
AAT: “Speaking of money, what is your take on the amount of the offered reward under the terms of the IRS?”
Stargard: “Frankly speaking, one million Kenyan shillings is a paltry sum. I cannot comprehend how reporting a competition-law violation such as a price-fixing cartel that may cost the Kenyan economy and its consumers billions in losses is deserving of 5-times less reward than an informant reporting an individual’s tax fraud to the revenue service, which may cause significantly less injury to the government purse than an international cartel of corporates…”
AAT: “Strong words.”
Stargard: “I’m serious. Compare and contrast the meager sum of not even US$10,000 maximum IRS reward with the potential 5-year prison sentence liability for executives convicted of collusion! There is simply no comparison…”
AAT: “In a perfect world, what would you change about the Kenyan whistleblower scheme?”
Stargard: “If I had had any input into the process of devising the IRS Guidelines, I would have ensured that the maximum reward amount be commensurate with the economic harm and financial damage done by cartels — in short, I would raise the IRS reward to an un-capped straight-up percentage portion of the fines recovered by the CAK. The more, the better for everyone.”
AAT: “Do you have any parting words or final observations on the IRS program for our readers?”
Stargard: “Well, for starters, it is not too late to implement changes to the regime. The CAK (and the legislature, to the extent necessary) can easily increase the maximum reward, as I proposed earlier. I am certain that it would yield better results than the current Sh1m cap, which can easily be ‘outbid’ by an already-corrupt employer, seeking to ‘buy’ its employees’ loyalty! So, Mr. Kariuki, if you’re reading this interview, I’d strongly suggest considering an increase in the reward.
Secondly, from our international experience, we know one thing about ‘secret’ informant schemes: One key element of any successful whistleblower regime (besides ensuring adequate rewards) is the strictest maintenance of confidentiality of the informant’s identity. I realize that section ‘F’ of the Guidelines assures the public that anonymity will be guaranteed and that the CAK will ‘take utmost care to ensure that the identity of the confidential informant is not disclosed.’ However, as an attorney, I can only say that the proof is in the pudding. We will have to wait for the first proceedings pursuant to IRS-provided reports, in order to determine whether or not the whistleblowers’ anonymity will indeed be preserved successfully in practice. That said, I look forward to advising clients on the many issues that are likely going to arise from the Scheme!”
AAT: “Thank you for your time and insights on this new development!”
With Panelists Zanele Mbuyisa – Counsel PPLAAF, John Oxenham- director Primerio, Mary Inman – partner Constantine Cannon Llc, Bill Kovacic – GWU Professor and non-executive director of the UK Competition and Markets Authority, Glynnis Breytenbach – former prosecutor for the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) & a member of parliament for the Democratic Alliance (DA), Johannes Stefansson – “Fish Rot” Whistleblower.
This webinar is part of a 2 part series dedicated to whistleblowing, fraud and corruption during COVID 19: the panels will include politicians, lawyers and whistleblowers. The discussion will touch on all aspects of the importance of instilling a whistleblowing regime in corporate, government and other pertinent spheres of society.
The COMESA Competition Commission has announced that it is accepting applications for the position of Director of the CCC until the end of October. Says Andreas Stargard, an antitrust practitioner with Primerio Ltd.:
“The post is currently held by Dr. George Lipimile, the agency’s first and, therefore by definition, most influential chief. Dr. Lipimile has certainly steered the comparatively young Commission into the right direction during its formative years, notably overseeing a complete makeover of the merger-notification procedure early on in the process, after much criticism of the initial system.
We are curious to see who will replace him in March 2021, as Dr. Lipimile’s term expires at the end of February. Will it be a true competition-law expert, or will it be a politically-motivated appointment made by the COMESA Secretariat, pushing for someone who is more of a trade lawyer or, worse, economic protectionist. What the CCC needs now to continue gaining international recognition and respect (from its peer agencies, as well as from commercial parties!) is a qualified antitrust attorney who understands the law & economics aspect of competition practice, and who will apply these principles neutrally throughout the COMESA region!”
George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission
“If the CCC steps up its enforcement game in the non-transactional arena, it could become a true force to reckon with in the West. I can envision a scenario where the CCC becomes capable of launching its own cartel matters and oversees a full-on leniency regime, not having to rely on the ‘follow-on enforcement’ experience from other agencies abroad. The CCC has great potential, but it must ensure that it fulfills it by showing principled deliberation and full transparency in all of its actions — otherwise it risks continued doubt from outsiders.”
It remains to be seen who the Director’s replacement will be and which of these topics will dominate her or his agenda, if any. The Director’s term is for 5 years, offering a salary of between $70,000 and $83,000. Details on the opening can be found here. Only Member State nationals can apply. Interestingly, COMESA member states’ antitrust enforcers likewise posted the announcement on their individual web sites: