COMESA, East Africa, economics, Uganda

Uganda misses $5m Common Market payments, gets “suspension”

As the local Daily Monitor reports, landlocked COMESA member state Uganda — ruled since January 1986 by authoritarian president Museveni — has failed to make requisite payments under the COMESA Treaty to the supra-national regional organization. Its arrears date back over two years, according to sources, and amount to roughly U.S. $4 to 5 million. Arrears carry with them a 1% per annum interest rate.

COMESA’s Secretary General has officially reprimanded the Ugandan government and placed the nation on the organization’s “sanction bracket.” Andreas Stargard, an attorney with Africa boutique law firm Primerio Ltd., notes that being sanctioned carries with it the nation-state’s loss of all privileges of COMESA membership, including its key free-trading benefits, during the duration of the sanctions being imposed. “It also means that Ugandan officials are not permitted to address official COMESA bodies, nor are Ugandan citizens permitted to be appointed to, or hired by, COMESA organs. It remains to be seen whether this suspension of Uganda will impact competition-law enforcement in any direct, appreciable way — what comes to mind is merger notification and the impact that Uganda’s being sanctioned may have on cooperation between the CCC and Ugandan authorities.”

The outstanding debt is all the more concerning as Museveni’s administration, in an attempt to cling to power after 35 years, recently reportedly spent large sums out of the state’s coffers on military-grade weaponry to prepare for the chaos precipitated by the recent hotly-disputed elections.

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cartels, collusion, COMESA, Kenya

Single Brush Stroke Stops Paints Cartel in its Tracks

Three years after an intricate East-African antitrust saga involving global European and Asian paint manufacturers, the industry is in the region’s competition-law news again.

Upon receiving allegations of cartel-like practices between paint makers and undisclosed distributors in 2018, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) launched an investigation into the suspected companies. The investigations later uncovered that four firms, namely: Crown Paints, Basco Products Limited, Kansai Plascon and Galaxy Paints (Companies) were guilty of collusion and price fixing which subjected the purchaser to unreasonably high prices for various paint brands. The CAK has since revealed this to Parliament and handed down its finding on the alleged ant-competitive behavior.

Crown Paints has a flagship brand called DuraCoat, which includes paint products for both interior and exterior finishing (painting and waterproofing). Dura Brands’ exposed collusion with the other three companies sparked fears that consumers have been buying these products at largely inflated prices. This is particularly significant given that Crown Paints is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange and is a heavyweight in the local paints market, with subsidiaries in Uganda and Tanzania.

Ruth Mosoti, Primerio Ltd.’s Kenyan competition practitioner, notes that the “CAK ultimately found that all four companies were in direct contravention of section 31 of the Competition Act, which addresses restrictive trade practices that prohibit companies from colluding with one another in order to determine product prices, as well as control when and to whom they will offer pricing discounts. CAK alleges that these are all anti-competitive behaviors that are to the detriment of the consumer as well as other, outside competitors.”

The authority making preliminary findings that the parties were involved in anti-competitive agreements on price fixing, discount structure and transport charges.” – Stated by the CAK in its latest report tabled before parliament.

In line with section 36(c) and (d) of the Act, the CAK is entitled to impose financial penalties “to remedy or reverse the infringement or the effects thereof” which may span “up to ten percent of the immediately preceding year’s gross annual turnover in Kenya of the undertaking or undertakings in question”.

Of the four Companies, Basco Products Limited was the only company that did not challenge the CAK’s preliminary ruling and paid the penalty amount of Sh20.799 million for the infringement. The company further agreed to abstain from committing any similar breach in the future. While the other companies initially appealed the decision handed down by the CAK, AAT staff have now learned that up to 3 of the accused firms have opted to settle, having withdrawn their appeals.

COMESA

It is also pivotal to note that on the 25th of February 2021, the COMESA Competition Commission (Commission) issued a cautionary note specifically pertaining to the consequences of forming barriers to trade.

The Commission made reference to Article 16 of the Regulations which prohibits “all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which: (a) may affect trade between Member States; and (b) have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market”.

The abovementioned contravention is evident in the case at hand, with the Commission going on to state that it “…will work closely with the national competition authorities in the Member States to ensure that offenders are detected, investigated and punished”. Furthermore, there is particular focus on “hard enforcement through screening, detection, investigation and punishment of offenders”.

The detrimental consequences arising from the conduct of these firms is not only prejudicial towards the customer due to the fact that price-fixing also excludes rival organizations that do not agree to the collusive setting of prices from competing in the same market. Therefore, the steps taken by the CAK and COMESA are paving the way to a healthy and competitive marketplace.

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COMESA, East Africa, new regime

Chief enforcer departs CCC, Mwemba takes on role

February 17th, 2021: TODAY, the COMESA Competition Commission (“Commission”) released the following statement, wishing “to inform the general public that the tenure of office of Dr George Lipimile who was the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission for the past ten years, came to an end on 31st January 2021.

Dr Lipimile was appointed by the COMESA Council of Ministers as the first Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission in February 2011. He served in this capacity at the Commission for ten years during which time he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Commission as the first fully operational regional competition authority in Africa and the second fully functional regional competition authority in the world after the European Commission. Dr Lipimile tirelessly worked towards the enforcement of the COMESA Competition Regulations and Rules. He dedicated his time at the Commission in strengthening the institution with but not limited to:

  • Growth in its staff compliment;
  • Creating sound legal framework;
  • Processes and Procedures for enforcement of the Regulations;
  • Advocacy and technical assistance to COMESA Member States; and
  • Setting up the necessary corporate governance systems.

Further, the Commission wishes to announce to the general public that Dr Willard Mwemba has been appointed as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission from 1st February 2021 until such time the substantive Director of the Commission is recruited. The Commission wishes to congratulate Dr Mwemba on his appointment as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission.

Incoming Mwemba & outgoing Lipimile

Andreas Stargard, a Primerio competition lawyer who knows both men from having notified transactions to the CCC as well as socially, says that “an era is now concluded — namely the ‘Genesis Era’ of the CCC, as George was its very first, and thus formative, leader. That said, I am deeply assured by the appointment of Dr. Mwemba to his post as acting Director, as he is of utmost competence and I have no doubt will guide the Commission in the right direction in this new ‘CCC 2.0 Era’ after Dr. Lipimile’s departure.”

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AAT exclusive, AfCFTA, COMESA, EAC, East Africa, ECOWAS, fraud/corruption, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Telecoms

Common Markets & the Race for Power in Africa: a Podcast Interview

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 we discuss in this Podcast episode:

  • 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?

Who’s speaking:

Michael Cohen is 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.

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AAT exclusive, COMESA, merger documentation, MergerMania, mergers

M&A Breaking News: Regional Antitrust Enforcer Aligns Merger Rule with European Union Principles

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”).

  1. 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 COMESAFurther, 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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:

  1. Both the acquiring firm and target firm can operate in at least two Member States;
  2. The acquiring firm can operate in at least two Member States, while the target firm can operate only in one Member State; or
  3. 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.

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AAT exclusive, COMESA, COVID-19, East Africa, exemptions, Kenya, public-interest

Antitrust enforcer to allow self-assessment of competitor collaborations amidst pandemic

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 CAK’s proposal thus strongly echoes what its regional sister authority, the COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) openly discussed as early as July of last year. As we wrote in our assessment of the official CCC staff’s thoughts on competition enforcement amidst the pandemic in 2020:

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.”

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ACF, COMESA, commissioners, Kenya

Kariuki gets World Bank advisor post

Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) Director-General Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki, MBS, will serve on the panel and contribute to its annual publication, the “World Development Report” for the upcoming calendar year. An archive of the Bank’s prior Reports is available for review here.

The Kenyan WallStreet publication quotes Kariuki as saying:

“The appointment takes cognizance of the fact that competition law enforcement has a role to play in poverty alleviation and that data is a highly-prized asset among companies, which can be leveraged for [either] development or socioeconomic harm. … Private firms may use data to deter the entry of upcoming firms, thereby limiting or preventing competition to the detriment of the consumers, specifically eroding their purchasing power and choice.”

Kariuki is a former COMESA Competition Commission Board member and a founding member and first chairman of the African Competition Forum.

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AAT exclusive, COMESA, commissioners, East Africa, mergers, new regime, personnel

COMESA seeks replacement for CCC’s Dr. Lipimile

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!”

Dr. Lipimile

George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission

Back in 2015, we quoted Mr. Stargard as follows, suggesting a path forward for the agency:

“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:

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AAT exclusive, cartels, collusion, COMESA, Malawi, meddling, Price fixing, Unfair Competition

Abusing antitrust enforcement for personal gain? Malawi’s Competition Agency Misled by Textbook Competitor

textbooks

As it turns out, some savvy ‘entrepeneurs’ have been able to use competition-law enforcement on the African continent to their personal gain, namely by making misleading — if not outright false — accusations against their competitors, thereby triggering an antitrust investigation, and even causing this venerable publication to report on such.  We have been made aware by the initial “target” company (now, as it turns out, the actual “victim”) of the Malawi investigation that one of its competitors in the textbook market had essentially weaponized the CFTC’s investigative powers by launching direct and indirect accusations against Mallory International that triggered the probe.  In the end, the CFTC concluded that none of the purported cartel conduct actually occurred.

To be clear and to avoid any doubt: Mallory International was cleared of any misconduct allegation.  The Editor has reviewed conclusive evidence of the CFTC’s closure of this investigation in August of 2018.  “What remains to be seen is whether or not the agency might use its powers to pursue the perpetrators of this inherently anti-competitive attack of false accusations (which coincidentally also wasted government resources) any further,” says AAT Editor Andreas Stargard, pointing to the underlying nature of such false claims as “quintessential unfair competition that should neither enjoy immunity from prosecution nor escape government scrutiny.”

For background, in our original reporting on this case (entitled “CFTC Investigates Foreign Textbook Supplier in Cartel Probe“), we had written as follows:

In a potential first, Malawi’s Competition and Fair Trade Commission’s (CFTC) Chief Executive Officer, Ms Charlotte Malonda, recently announced that the CFTC is investigating a UK-based supplier of textbooks, Mallory International, for alleged cartel conduct.  Mallory had partnered up with a local company, Maneno Books Investments, as part of a joint venture, called “Mallory International JV Maneno Enterprise”.  In addition, other companies also being investigated include Jhango Publishers, South African based Pearson Education Africa, Dzuka Publishing Company and UK based Trade Wings International.  
The investigation follows complaints received by the Human Rights Consultative Committee as well as a number of its constituent civil society organisations and NGOs.  The allegations include price fixing and collusive tendering vis-à-vis tenders issued by the Malawian government for the supply of pupils’ text books.  [Editor’s Note: “Contrary to the statements in our original article, the actual complaint by HRCC and FND alleged neither price fixing nor collusive bidding. Its main allegation was that unjustified objections were made to contract awards in Malawi, and that attempts were made to dissuade publishers from issuing authorisation letters to particular bidders. Neither of these allegations was true, and no evidence to support either of them was ever produced. The complaint was dismissed by CFTC in August 2018.”]
The Nyasa Times quoted the CFTC head as confirming that the agency had “received a few complaints about allegations of a cartel and other procurement malpractices, hence our commencement of the investigations to get the bottom of the matter.”
Based on the language of Section 50 of the Act suggests that the sanctions for committing an offence in terms of the Act requires the imposition of both a penalty and a five year prison sentence. Although not aware of any case law which has previously interpreted this provision, the wording of the Act is particularly onerous, particularly in light of the per se nature of cartel conduct.
Section 33 of the Competition and Fair Trade Act prohibits collusive tendering and bid rigging per se. Furthermore, a contravention of section 33 is an offence in terms of the Act carries with it not only the imposition of an administrative penalty, which is the greater of the financial gain generated from the collusive conduct or K500 000, but also criminal sanctions, the maximum being a prison sentence of five years, notes Andreas Stargard, a competition attorney:
“The Malawian competition enforcer, under Ms. Malonda’s leadership, has shown significant growth both in terms of bench strength and actual enforcement activity since her involvement began in 2012.”
The Act is not clear what “financial gain” means in this instance and whether the penalty is based on the entire revenue generated by the firm for the specific tender (allegedly tainted by collusion) or whether it applies only to the profit generated from the project. Furthermore, it is unclear how this would apply to a co-cartelist who did not win the tender. The Act may be interpreted that the “losing bidder” is fined the minimum amount of K500 000 which equates to appox. USD 700 (a nominal amount) while the “winner” is penalised the value of the entire tender value (which would be overly prejudicial, particularly if turnover and not profit is used as the basis for financial gain).
Although the investigation has only recently commenced and no respondent has admitted to wrong doing nor has there been a finding of wrongdoing, this will be an important case to monitor to the extent that there is an adverse finding made by the CFTC. Unless the Malawian authorities adopt a pragmatic approach to sentencing offending parties, section 50 of the Act may significantly undermine foreign investment as a literal interpretation of the Act would render Malawi one of the most high risk jurisdictions in terms of potential sanctions from a competition law perspective.
It may also result in fewer firms wishing to partner up with local firms by way of joint ventures as JV’s are a particularly high risk form of collaboration between competitors if there is no clear guidance form the authorities as to how JV’s are likely to be treated from a competition law perspective.

 

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AAT exclusive, COMESA, COVID-19, Meet the Enforcers, mergers, notification, public-interest

COMESA antitrust enforcer holds COVID seminar

 

Willard Mwemba

Dr. Mwemba of the CCC

The COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) hosted a live webinar today on the impact of COVID-19 on merger regulation and enforcement within the common market in the COMESA region.  The seminar was aptly sub-titled “Challenges and Way Forward,” and the CCC representatives, in particular Dr. Willard Mwemba, did indeed lay out the problems faced by them and the measures proposed and taken to alleviate them.

COVID-related business and national competition agency closures have led to “significant delays in information gathering” from NCAs, third parties, and merger parties themselves.

CCC has relaxed the hard-copy filing requirements for merger notifications.

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.”

That said, the CCC emphasized that its adjustment to enforcement actions should not be construed as any weakening of competition principles taking place.  The harmonization and coordination among the COMESA member countries’ agencies and the CCC remain a critical element of the operation of the single market.

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