COMESA competition workshops underway (#CCCworkshop)

CCC workshop participants

Events focus on media & business community’s understanding of competition rules and practical workload of CCC

Media

For two days this week, COMESA will hold its 5th annual “Regional Sensitization Workshop for Business Reporters“, focussed on provisions and application of the COMESA competition regulations and trade developments within the 19-country common market.

Over 30 journalists from close to a dozen countries are expected to participate in the event, held in Narobi, Kenya, from Monday – Tuesday.

AfricanAntitrust.com will cover all pertinent news emerging from the conference.  We will update this post as the conference progresses.

Speakers include a crème de la crème of East African government antitrust enforcement, including the CCC’s own Willard Mwemba (head of M&A), the CCC’s Director Dr. George Lipimile, and the Director and CEO of the Competition Authority of Kenya, Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki.  Topics will include news on the rather well-developed area of of mergerenforcement, regional integration & competition policy, as well as the concept of antitrust enforcement by the CCC as to restrictive business practices, an area that has been thus far less developed by the Commission in terms of visibility and actual enforcement, especially when compared to M&A.  We previously quoted Director Lipimile’s statement at a 2014 conference that, since the CCC’s commencement of operations “in January, 2013, the most active provisions of the Regulations have been the merger control provisions.”

Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner, notes:

“We have been impressed with the Commission’s progress to-date, but remain surprised that no cartel cases have emerged from the CCC’s activities.  We believe that the CCC has sufficient capacity and experience now, in its sixth year of existence, to pursue both collusion and unilateral-conduct competition cases.

Personally, I remain cautiously optimistic that the CCC will, going forward, take up the full spectrum of antitrust enforcement activities — beyond pure merger review — including monopolisation/abuse of dominance cases, as well as the inevitable cartel investigations and prosecutions that must follow.”

The media conference will conclude tomorrow evening, June 26th.

Business Community

COMESA Competition Commission logoThe second event, also held in Nairobi, will shift its focus both in terms of attendees and messaging: It is the CCC’s first-ever competition-law sensitization workshop for the Business Community, to take place on Wednesday.  It is, arguably, even more topical than the former, given that the target audience of this workshop are the corporate actors at whom the competition legislation is aimed — invited are not only practicing attorneys, but also Managing Directors, CEOs, company secretaries, and board members of corporations.  It is this audience that, in essence, conducts the type of Mergers & Acquisitions and (in some instances) restrictive, anti-competitive business conduct that falls under the jurisdiction of Messrs. Lipimile, Mwemba, and Kariuki as well as their other domestic African counterparts in the region.

The inter-regional trade component will also be emphasized; as the CCC’s materials note, “we are at a historical moment in time where the Tripartite and Continental Free Trade Area agreements are underway. The objective of these agreements is to realize a single market. Competition law plays a vital role in the realization of this objective, therefore its imperative that journalists have an understanding of how competition law contributes to the Agenda.”

#LiveUpdates from the #CCCworkshop

Kenya perspective

Boniface Kamiti, the CAK representative replacing Mr. Kariuki at the event, noted that Africa in general and including the COMESA region “has a weak competition culture amongst businesses — which is why cartels are continuing in Africa, and the level of M&A is not at the level one would expect.”  This is why media “reporting on competition advocacy is very important, to articulate the benefits of competition policy and how enforcement activities further its goals, so the COMESA countries may be able to compete with other countries, including even the EU members, at a high level.”

He also highlighted — although without further explanation — the “interplay between the COMESA competition laws and those of the member countries; most people are not aware of that!”  This comment is of particular interest in light of the prior jurisdictional tension that had existed between national agencies and the CCC in the past regarding where and when to file M&A deals.  These “teething issues are now fully resolved”, according to Dr. Lipimile, and there are neither de iure nor any de facto merger notification requirements in individual COMESA member states other than the “one-stop shop” CCC filing (which has, according to Mr. Mwemba, reduced parties’ M&A transaction costs by 66%).

On the issue of restrictive trade practices (RTP), the CAK reminded participants that trade associations often serve to facilitate RTP such as price-fixing cartels, which are subject to (historically not yet imposed, nor likely to be) criminal sanctions in Kenya. It also observed that (1) manufacturers’ resale price maintenance (RPM) would almost always be prosecuted under the Kenyan Competition Act, and that (2) since a 2016 legislative amendment, monopsony conduct (abuse of buyer power) is also subject to the Act’s prohibitions.

Concluding, the CAK’s Barnabas Andiva spoke of its “fruitful” collaboration with the CCC on ongoing RTP matters, noting the existing inter-agency Cooperation Agreement. Added Mr. Mwemba, “we have approximately 19 pending RTP cases.”

CCC leadership perspective:  Nudging Uganda and Nigeria towards competition enforcement

CCC_Director

George Lipimile, CEO, COMESA Competition Commission

Dr. Lipimile took up Mr. Kamiti’s “weak African competition culture” point, noting the peculiar regional issue that “between poverty and development lies competition” to enhance consumer welfare.

He took the audience through a brief history of antitrust laws globally, and encouraged journalists to explain the practical benefits of “creating competitive markets” for the population of the COMESA region at large.

He called on Uganda and Nigeria to — finally — enact a competition law.  (AAT has independently reported on Uganda and also the EAC’s emphasis on its member nations having operational antitrust regimes.  We observe that Uganda does have a draft Competition Bill pending for review; a fellow Ugandan journalist at the conference mentioned that there has been some, undefined, progress made on advancing it in the Ugandan legislature.)  Dangote — the vast Nigerian cement conglomerate (see our prior article here) — and Lafarge played exemplary roles in Lipimile’s discourse, in which he commented that “they do not need protecting, they are large”, instead “we need more players” to compete.

Importantly, Dr. Lipimile emphasized that protectionism is anti-competitive, that “competition law must not discriminate,” and that its goal of ensuring competitive market behaviour must not be confused with the objectives of other laws that are more specifically geared to developing certain societal groups or bestow benefits on disadvantaged populations, as these are not the objectives of competition legislation.

The CCC also called on the press to play a more active role in the actual investigation of anti-competitive behaviour, by reporting on bid rigging, unreported M&A activity, suspected cartels (e.g., based on unexplained, joint price hikes in an industry), and the like.  These types of media reports may indeed prompt CCC investigations, Lipimile said.  Current “market partitioning” investigations mentioned by him include Coca Cola, SABMiller, and Unilever.

He concluded with the — intriguing, yet extremely challenging, in our view — idea of expanding and replicating the COMESA competition model on a full-fledged African scale, possibly involving the African Union as a vehicle.

CCC workshop participants

2018 CCC workshop participants

COMESA Trade perspective

The organisation’s Director of Trade & Commerce, Francis Mangeni, presented the ‘competition-counterpart’ perspective on trade, using the timely example of Kenyan sugar imports, the cartel-like structure supporting them, and the resulting artificially high prices, noting the politically-influenced protectionist importation limitations imposed in Kenya.

Dr. Mangeni opined that the CCC “can and should scale up its operations vigorously” to address all competition-related impediments to free trade in the area.

CCC Mergers

Director of M&A, Mr. Mwemba, updated the conference on the agency’s merger-review developments. He pointed to the agency’s best-of-breed electronic merger filing mechanism (reducing party costs), and the importance of the CCC’s staying abreast of all new antitrust economics tools as well as commercial technologies in order to be able to evaluate new markets and their competitiveness (e.g., online payments).

As Mr. Mwemba rightly pointed out, most transactions “do not raise competition concerns” and those that do can be and often are resolved via constructive discussions and, in some cases, undertakings by the affected companies. In addition, the CCC follows international best practices such as engaging in pre-merger notification talks with the parties, as well as follow-ups with stakeholders in the affected jurisdictions.

Key Statistics

Year-to-date (2018), the 24 notified mergers account for approximately $18 billion in COMESA turnover alone. Leading M&A sectors are banking, finance, energy, construction, and agriculture.

In terms of geographic origination, Kenya, Zambia, and Mauritius are the leading source nations of deal-making parties, with Zimbabwe and Uganda closely following and rounding out the Top-5 country list.

The total number of deals reviewed by the CCC since 2013 amounts to 175 with a total transaction value of US $92 billion, accounting for approximately $73.7 billion in COMESA market revenues alone. (The filing fees derived by the Commission have totaled $27.9 million, of which half is shared with the affected member states.)

All notified deals have received approval thus far. Over 90% of transactions were approved unconditionally. In 15 merger cases, the CCC decided to impose conditions on the approval.

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Media cartel exposed and fined

By AAT Senior Contributor Stephany Torres

Print media companies Independent Media and Caxton & CTP Publishers and Printers (“Caxton”) have agreed to pay an administrative penalties as well as an amount to the Economic Development Fund of over R8 million as part of two separate settlement agreements with the Competition Commission (“The Commission”) after admitting to fixing prices and trading conditions in contravention of section 4(1)(b)(i) of the Competition Act no. 89 of 1998 (“The Competition Act”).

Caxton owns local print media, including the Citizen newspaper and magazines Bona, Rooirose and Farmer’s Weekly, among others.  Independent owns newspapers The Star, Cape Times, Sunday Independent, among others and magazines GQ and GQ Style.

Attorneys from African competition law firm Primerio Ltd. report that this development follows from a 2011 investigation by the Commission into the matter where they found that, through the facilitating vehicle of the Media Credit CoOrdinators (“MCC”) organization, various media companies agreed to offer similar discounts and payment terms to advertising agencies that place advertisements with MCC members.  MCC accredited agencies were offered a 16.5% discount, while non-members were offered 15%.  In addition, the Commission found that the implicated companies employed services of an intermediary company called Corex to perform risk assessments on advertising agencies for purposes of imposing a settlement discount structure and terms on advertising agencies.  “The Commission found that the practices restricted competition among the competing companies as they did not independently determine an element of a price in the form of discount or trading terms”.

In a media release, the Competition Commission confirmed Caxton will pay a fine of R5 806 890.14, and R2 090 480.45 to the Economic Development Fund over three years.  It will also provide 25% bonus advertising space for every rand of advertising space bought by qualifying small agencies for three years, capped at R15 000 000 per annum.

Independent Media will pay an administrative penalty of R2 220 603 and will contribute R799 417 to the Economic Development Fund over a three-year period, and provide 25% bonus advertising space for every rand of advertising space bought by qualifying small agencies, over three years and capped at R5 000 000. Independent has also said it would obtain its own credit insurance so small agencies are not required to commit any securities or guarantees in order to book advertising space.

The Economic Development Fund is designed to develop black-owned small media or advertising agencies, which require assistance with start-up capital and will assist black students with bursaries to study media or advertising.

The agreements were confirmed as orders of the Competition Tribunal.

 

South African Competition Tribunal Finds in Favour of Ster-Kinekor in Market Allocation Case

The South African Competition Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) last week dismissed a complaint referred to it by the Competition Commission (“the Commission”) in 2009 which alleged that two rival cinemas, Primedia’s Ster-Kinekor Theatres and Avusa’s Nu-Metro Entertainment (Pty) Ltd, which operate in the market for the exhibition of films at the V&A Waterfront shopping complex in Cape Town, engaged in market allocation by agreeing not to screen the same film genres in contravention of section 4(1)(b)(ii) of the Competition Act[1].

The Commission initiated the complaint after Avusa applied for conditional immunity and provided evidence of the existence of a settlement agreement, which was made an order of court in 1998, between Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor. In terms of the settlement agreement, Ster-Kinekor agreed not to exhibit any films identified as “commercial films” and Nu Metro would not exhibit any films identified as “art films” at the V&A waterfront.

The two companies first signed the ‘non-compete’ settlement agreement in May 1998, before section 4 of the Competition Act (which prohibits cartel conduct) became effective. Section 4 of the Competition Act only became effective as at 1 September 1999.

The Tribunal dismissed the complaint on the basis that the settlement agreement was concluded before the Competition Act came into operation and Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro could only be found guilty of a contravention if there was evidence of actions or discussions between them directed at actually implementing the agreement after the Competition Act came into force.

In this regard cross-examination of witnesses revealed that while leniency applicant Nu Metro had attempted to invoke the settlement once after the Competition Act came into force, Ster-Kinekor employees “did not know about the… agreement, did not implement it, and had not implemented it before”, the Tribunal stated.

The Tribunal did not deal with Primedia’s other defence that no relief could be granted against Primedia because Primedia had only purchased Ster-Kinekor in 2008, so could not be liable for the actions of its predecessor.

John Oxenham, a South African competition lawyer, said that “the case confirms that the Competition Act does not apply retrospectively and some form of understanding or agreement (in essence a “new” agreement) needs to arise between the parties after the Act came into force for the conduct to be unlawful”.  He believes that although the Tribunal mentioned that there needs to be some implementation of the agreement after the Competition Act came into force, what they are actually saying or should be saying is that it is not the implementation which is necessary but the arising of a “new” agreement between the parties which is essential.

Section 4(1)(b)(ii) of the Competition Act is a per se offence and an agreement does not need to be implemented in order to contravene the market allocation prohibitions.

Accordingly, the Tribunal has to some extent blurred the distinction between a ‘lack of implementation’ and the duty to distance oneself from a ‘prohibited agreement’.

 

Administrative Penalties & Behavioural Remedies – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

In the wake of the dust settling around the recent settlement agreement reached between ArcelorMittal (AMSA) and the South African Competition Commission (SACC), it may be an opportune time to consider the appropriateness of behavioural penalties levied in respect of firms engaging in cartel conduct or abuse of dominance practices.

AAT Header squareIn terms of the AMSA settlement agreement, AMSA admitted to contravening the cartel provisions contained in the Competition Act and agreed to pay a R1.5 billion (in instalments of no less than R300 million per annum for five years) administrative penalty. In addition to the administrative penalty, AMSA also agreed to invest approximately R4,6 Million into the South African economy for the next 5 years (provided the prevailing economic conditions render such investment feasible) by way of CAPEX obligations.

Furthermore, a pricing remedy was imposed on AMSA in terms of which AMSA undertook not to generate earnings before interest and tax of more than 10% for the next five years (which could be amended on good cause shown, but was capped, in any event, at 15%).

The nature of the settlement terms as agreed to by AMSA is not, however, a novel feature in settlements before the South African Competition Authorities. In 2010, the Competition Commission settled its investigation in relation to Pioneer Foods’ activities in the maize and wheat milling, baking, poultry and eggs industries (the settlement came after the Competition Tribunal had already imposed a R197 million administrative penalty against Pioneer in respect of its participation in a bread cartel).

In terms of the settlement agreement, Pioneer undertook to:

  • pay R250 million as an administrative penalty to National Revenue Fund;
  • pay R250 million to create an Agro-processing Competitiveness Fund to be administered by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC);
  • increase its capital expenditure by R150 million over and above its currently approved capital expenditure (capex) budget; and
  • cooperate with the Competition Commission in the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of the cases that are the subject of this settlement; and stopping anti-competitive conduct and implementing a competition compliance programme.

Furthermore, and more recently, the consent agreement with edible fats producer Sime Darby Hudson Knight (“Sime Darby”), is a further example of a consent order which included financial undertakings in addition to paying an administrative penalty.

In terms of this consent agreement, Sime Darby undertook to invest and establish a warehouse for the distribution of its products into territories which it had previously not distributed its products into, due to the market allocation agreement which formed the basis of the complaint. Sime Darby also committed to contributing to funding the entry of a BEE distributor.

What is evident from the above three examples is that over and above the administrative penalty which may be imposed on a respondent, the financial impact of the additional behavioural and public interest related conditions may substantially exceed the administrative penalty itself.

It is, therefore, an important factor for respondents who find themselves in settlement negotiations with the Competition Commission to consider alternative terms of settling a matter as opposed to merely focussing on the administrative penalty itself.

From an agency’s perspective, the costs associated with behavioural conditions must be carefully weighed up as they also tend to require ongoing, and occasionally extensive oversight by the authorities. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that behavioural remedies are not abused, both by the authorities and by respondents.

south_africaWhile settlement negotiations are inherently flexible, it is important that agencies ensure an objective and a transparent methodology in the manner in which they approach the quantification of a settlement agreement. This has certainty been strived for by the Competition Commission when it elected to publish Guidelines on the Determination of the Calculation of Administrative Penalties (Guidelines). The objectives of the Guidelines, may however, be undermined in light of the broader behavioural and public interest related conditions imposed in recent cases.

A clear and objective point of departure would be favourable for both the agency itself and the relevant respondent in being able to conclude settlement negotiation expeditiously.

A further important consideration, which is particularly highlighted in the AMSA settlement agreement, is whether the remedies provide for an adequate deterrent factor and/or address the relevant harm.

Importantly, in the AMSA matter, AMSA’s R4.6 million CAPEX expenditure investment was as a result of a complaint into alleged abuse of dominance. In terms of the settlement agreement, AMSA did not admit liability for having engaged in abuse of dominance practices.

In light of the fact that the Competition Commission generally requires an admission of liability before concluding a consent order, it is not clear to us, at this stage, why the Commission elected not to demand an admission of liability in relation to the abuse of dominance complaint.

It may be that the Commission did not wish to spend the significant resources in prosecuting an abuse of dominance case, or that the Commission took the view that any abuse of dominance finding would likely only be in respect of the general prohibition against exclusionary conduct, as per Section 8(c) of the Competition Act, which carries no administrative liability for a first time offence.

Accordingly, it may have been a strategic weighing up of the ‘costs versus likely penalty’ which shaped the Commission’s strategic decision.

Whether or not such a strategic decision is justified is not a particular focus of this article. What we do wish to highlight, however, is that absent an admission of liability, a third party who seeks to pursue follow-on damages will be precluded from bringing a civil damages claim against AMSA. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in the Premier Foods matter in 2015.

The Media 24 Case

Shifting our train of thought to another issue, although not unrelated, is the question as to what exactly constitutes an administrative penalty?

The question was raised, although ultimately not decided by the Competition Tribunal in the recent Media 24 predatory pricing case.

After having been found guilty by the Competition Tribunal, in 2015, for contravening section 8(c) of the Competition Act (for engaging in ‘predatory pricing’), a separate hearing was held to determine the appropriate sanction. As mentioned above, an administrative penalty is not permissible for a first time offence of section 8(c) of the Act.

At the hearing the Competition Commission had proposed, as one of its remedies that Media 24 undertake to establish a R10 million development fund to fund a new entrant into the market.

Media 24 objected to the proposed remedy and raised the argument that the remedy proposed by the Commission would effectively be an administrative penalty, which is not a permissible sanction in terms of the Competition Act.

The Competition Tribunal elected to evaluate the remedy from a practical perspective, finding that the proposed remedy would not be suitable or effective, but deliberately kept open the legal question as to whether or not a remedy which requires any financial commitment from the respondent would effectively amount to an administrative penalty.

The question is rather vexing and may require clarification in due course.

Assuming that the proposed remedy in the Media 24 case would indeed amount to an administrative penalty, the question would naturally arise whether a CAPEX undertaking, as was the case in the AMSA matter discussed above, would also be considered a form of an administrative penalty. If so, then due consideration should be had as to whether the aggregation of the ‘stated administrative penalty’ (i.e. the R1.5 billion in AMSA’s case) together with the behavioural remedies imposed in AMSA (a minimum of R4.6 billion), should be calculated for purposes of determining whether the statutory cap of 10% of a firm’s turnover has been exceeded.

Alternatively, if the Competition tribunal ultimately decides that the proposed remedy in Media 24 is not an administrative penalty as contemplated in terms of the Competition Act, then effectively, we may see an entire new paradigm in the manner in which firms are sanctioned for contravening the Competition Act. For instance, those provisions of the Competition Act which do not cater for an administrative penalty for a first time offence (i.e., certain vertical, horizontal and abuse of dominance practices), may in any event result in respondents paying substantial ‘penalties’ for contravening these provisions.

Furthermore, respondents may not be afforded the protection which the statutory cap places on administrative penalties. As noted above, a firm may be subjected to an administrative penalty which does not exceed 10% of its annual turnover, but the net effect of the respondent’s financial liability may indeed exceed the cap.

While we do not pronounce our views on this issue, suffice it to say that firms engaging with the Competition Authorities with a view of concluding a settlement agreement are entering into a ‘new world’ and there are a number of options, avenues and risks associated in ultimately negotiating a settlement.

Accordingly, the issues raised above may be particularly useful in the manner in which firms embark on their settlement strategies.

 

 

First predatory pricing case before the Competition Tribunal

Media24 excludes GNN, Tribunal finds

By Julie Tirtiaux

A year ago, we at AAT reported on the intervention by competitors in the merger between Media24 and Paarl Media.  Today, we want to highlight a “one-year-later” feature about that same company, which has now been found liable of predatory exclusion of its rivals by the South African Competition Tribunal (the “Tribunal”).  The Tribunal found on 8 September 2015 that Media24 had engaged in exclusionary conduct due to predation by removing a rival community newspaper publication, Gold Net News (“GNN”), out of the market. [1]

Two routes explored by the South African Competition Commission’s (“SACC”) to sanction Media24’s predation conduct

In 2009, GNN exited the newspaper community market. Within 10 months of the exit of GNN, Media24 closed down one of its titles, Forum. From then until today, Vista which is another title owned by Media24, is the only title to survive in the Welkom market.

According to the SACC:

  • If Vista is the only local paper operating in the Welkom market, it is because Forum was used as a predatory vehicle to exclude its competitor, GNN.
  • The strategy consisted in pricing Forum’s advertising rates below market cost despite repeated loss making and failure to perform to budget forecasts.
  • Media24 operated Forum as a fighting brand, meaning that Media24 sacrificially maintained Forum in the market to exclude its competitor.

For the SACC the reduction of choice of community newspapers during the period January 2004 to April 2009 can only be explained by Media24’s predatory pricing conduct. In order to condemn this conduct as predation, the SACC relied on two provisions of the Competition Act 89 of 1998 (the “Act”) which respectively lead to different sanctions.

  • First and ideally, the SACC alleged that Media24 should be sanctioned for its predatory behaviour in terms of section 8(d)(iv) of the Act, which is the explicit predation provision and enables the Tribunal to impose a fine for a first offence.
  • Second, should the predation not be captured by the express predation provision of section 8(d)(iv), Media24 should at least be found responsible for engaging in general exclusionary conduct, prohibited by section 8(c) of the Act which only gives the Tribunal the power to impose remedies. No fine is available for a first contravention. Only a repeated offence may be subject to an administrative penalty.

Following the Commission’s investigation after the allegations brought by Hans Steyl, who ran GNN from 1999 until its eventual closure in 2009, the Commission referred the case to the Tribunal in 2011.

The denial of predation conduct by Media24

Media24 (whose slogan is, somewhat ironically perhaps: “Touching lives through the power of media“) denied any casual link between the fates of the Forum and the GNN’s papers. Forum was not used as a predatory vehicle to exclude GNN. Media24 attributed the closure of Forum to the 2008 recession, on-going downsizing in Media24 as a whole, and to the problem of publishing two newspapers, Forum and Vista, in the Welkom area. It further argued that GNN had exited because it was not viable.

The difficulty to prove a direct predatory pricing conduct

For the first time in the sixteen years in which the new Competition Act has been in operation[2], the Tribunal assessed a predatory pricing case.

Predatory pricing means that prices charged by a dominant firm are not market related but below what would be expect to be a market price. Predatory pricing is only a transient pleasure for consumers as once competitors are eliminated or new entrants are deterred from entering, then the low price honeymoon is over and the predator can impose high prices to recoup the losses sustained in the period of predation.

In terms of section 8(d)(iv) of the Act, to find an express predation contravention, the Commission is required to prove that Media24 priced below “its marginal or average variable cost” (“AVC”) (our emphasis)[3]. The Commission argued that this wording is broad enough to include pricing below average avoidable cost (“AAC”)[4]. This is the cost the firm could have avoided by not engaging in the predatory strategy.[5]

To find exclusionary conduct and thus a contravention of section 8(c) based on predation[6], the Commission would not necessarily need to establish that the dominant firm’s pricing is below any specific cost standard.  All that is required is that the conduct (in this case, low pricing) has an anti-competitive exclusionary effect.

In the Media24 case, the Tribunal has effectively established a new test for predatory pricing which does not meet the test under section 8(d)(iv).  It said that if Media24 is found to have priced below its average total cost (“ATC”)[7] accompanied by additional evidence of intention and recoupment of the loss of profits sustained during the predation period, then a contravention of section 8(c) has taken place.

As ATC include more costs than AAC and AVC of marginal cost, it makes a finding of predation more likely.  The AAC test is thus more stringent than the ATC test.  This follows the logic of the consequences of each section.  As a contravention of section 8(d)(iv) of the Act leads to a fine while a contravention of section 8(c) of the Act only leads to a remedy, it is more difficult to fill the requirements of the specific predation section – section 8(d)(iv).

Consequently, a central issue in this case was to determine Media24’s costs, and compare them to the prices charged during the relevant period.  This is no simple matter.

The Tribunal’s findings trigger questions about how section 8 of the Act on abuse of dominance is structured

Following lengthy discussions about what constitute avoidable costs, the Tribunal held that opportunity costs[8] and re-deployment costs cannot be factored into the calculation of Forum’s AAC. Accordingly, the Tribunal found that Media24 did not contravene the express predation section 8(d)(iv) of the Act.

Interestingly, the Tribunal did however found that Media24 contravened the general exclusionary section 8(c) of the Act. Indeed, after establishing that Media24 was a dominant firm in the market for community newspapers[9], the Tribunal found the evidence of predatory intent which resulted from statements and the implementation of a plan that was predatory in nature. Moreover, the Tribunal held that the pricing of Forum was below ATC.

As a result, it was found that GNN’s exit of the market affected both advertisers and readers. While advertisers paid higher prices as they lost an alternative outlet, readers lost the choice of an alternative newspaper.

Accordingly, the Tribunal concluded that Media24 engaged in exclusionary practice because of predation but didn’t find a contravention of the express predation section of the Competition Act.

The implication of this finding is that Media24 is not liable for a fine. The only power left to the Tribunal is the imposition of another form of remedy. Only if Media24 does the same thing again, will it be subjected to a potential administrative penalty under section 8(c).

Such a finding triggers two interrogations about how section 8 of the Act deals with abuse of dominance.[10]

  • Firstly, how can deterrence be guaranteed when the only consequence of a predatory exclusion conduct, in certain circumstances, is a remedy without a monetary fine? This case leaves food for thought as to the necessity to empower the Tribunal to impose a fine for a first offence when a general exclusionary conduct is found.
  • Secondly, if the required test to prove a contravention of the explicit predation section is too stringent and almost impossible, not only a predatory conduct will never lead to a fine but more generally the utility of this section should be seriously considered.
Footnotes

[1] See the Tribunal’s decision: http://www.comptrib.co.za/assets/Uploads/Reasons-for-Decision-Media24-Section-8-Case-Signature-Documentfinal.pdf

[2] See the Tribunal’s press release: http://www.comptrib.co.za/publications/press-releases/media24-press-release/

[3] A variable cost being a cost that varies with changes in output. The AVC is defined as the sum of all variables costs divided by output.

[4] The important difference with AVC is that AAC include an element of fixed costs.

[5] AAC has become a widely accepted cost standard for the assessment of predatory pricing. This acceptance is evident both from its inclusion in the EU‘s Guidelines, the recent International Competition Network Guidelines, and a Department of Justice Report.

[6] See Nationwide Airlines (Pty) Ltd v SAA (Pty) Ltd and others [1999-2000] CPLR 230 (CT), page 10. The Tribunal stated that a predatory pricing could lead to a finding in terms of section 8(c).

[7] ATC includes fixed, variable and sunk costs (sunk costs being costs that have already been incurred and thus cannot be recovered).

[8] An opportunity cost is a cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action.

[9] Media24 would have had a market share of approximately 75%.

[10] On this topic, see the articles of Neil Mackenzie, “Are South Africa’s Predatory Pricing Rules Suitable?” and “Rethinking Exclusionary Abuse in South Africa”.

COMESA to media reps: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

COMESA Competition Commission logo

Zambia hosts COMESA Competition Commission workshop to sensitize journalists to antitrust

As many African news outlets are reporting, their journalists were recently invited to take part in a competition-law “sensitization workshop” hosted by high-ranking CCC personnel in Livingstone, Zambia.

In light of COMESA’s currently lackluster merger enforcement and virtually non-existing merger notifications (none since 19 March 2014), this “media sensitization” public relations effort on the part of the CCC leadership comes as no surprise.

Here, we quote from the Seychelles Nation:

 


The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) competition commission recently organised a regional sensitisation workshop for business reporters.

The aim of the workshop, held in Livingstone, Zambia, was to enhance the role of the media in exposing anti-competitive business practices and promoting a competition culture in markets. 

The media was explained the role of good reporting on the competition policy within the Comesa, whose prime objective is to promote consumer welfare through encouraging competition among businesses. This objective is achieved by instituting a legal framework aimed at preventing restrictive business practices and other restrictions that deter the efficient operation of the market, thereby enhancing the welfare of consumers in the common market. 

Comesa is a regional economic grouping composed of 19 member states namely; Republic of Burundi, Union of Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Djibouti, Arab Republic of Egypt, State of Eritrea, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Republic of Kenya, Libya, Republic of Madagascar, Republic of Malawi, Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Rwanda, Republic of Seychelles, Republic of Sudan, Kingdom of Swaziland, Republic of Uganda, Republic of Zambia and Republic of Zimbabwe.  The grouping’s objective is for a full free trade area guaranteeing the free movement of goods and services produced within Comesa and the removal of all tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

But only journalists from Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe were present at the workshop. Seychelles was represented by journalist Marylene Julie from the Seychelles NATION newspaper.

The Comesa competition law is, in this regard, a legal framework enforced with the sole aim of enabling the common market attain the full benefits of the regional economic integration agenda by affording a legal platform for promoting fair competition among businesses involved in trade in the common market and protecting consumers from the adverse effects of monopolisation and related business malpractices.

Among the topics discussed at the meeting were the definition and scope of competitive policy;  the relevance of competition policy in ensuring market efficiency and the protection of consumer welfare; overview of the Comesa competition regulations, its legal basis and implementation modalities.

Mergers and acquisitions were also explained and why competition authorities regulate them. 

The media representatives also learned about their role in ensuring businesses notify transactions with competition authorities to avoid the dangers of anti-competitive business.

Hosting the workshop were the director and chief executive of the Comesa competition commission, George K. Lipimile; the manager for enforcement and exemptions Vincent Nkhoma and Willard Mwemba, manager (mergers & acquisitions).

In a message from the secretary general of Comesa Sindiso Ngwenya which was read by Mr Lipimile, Mr Ngwenya welcomed all media guests in Livingstone for the sensitisation workshop.

He said the gathering means that Comesa is reaching out to one of the most important key stakeholders in the region – the media. 

He also said the media plays a great role in advancing the group’s advocacies in the regions and through it Comesa is creating awareness surrounding the current regional trade order and the need for a competition policy for the region.

“Today our specific governments as well as other economic operators and the general public are appreciating that competition policy has a key role to play in creating conditions of governance for the national, regional and global market place,” read the message.

Explaining why the competition policy is an important instrument, Mr Lipimile said it forces companies to run themselves efficiently, ensures a level playing field, forces economic operators to adjust changes and encourages innovation. Competitions lead to lower prices, greater dynamism in industry and most important of all greater job creation.

He added that competitive markets are needed to provide strong incentives for achieving economic efficiency and goods that consumers want in the quantities they want.

Regarding mergers and acquisitions and why competition authorities should regulate mergers, Mr Mwemba said the regulation of mergers is one of the most important components of any competition legislation and policy. 

He explained that sometimes mergers are effected to eliminate competition. 
“Therefore mergers need to be regulated so as not to injure the process of competition and harm consumers,” said Mr Mwemba.

He highlighted that firms merging just to eliminate competition is detrimental to consumers as it results in poor quality goods, high prices, and fewer choices to them.

He also stressed the media’s role in ensuring firms notify their mergers so that they do not merge for ulterior motives. 

The media can also avoid situations where firms  keep the merger a secret as they are mindful competition authority may reject their application. 
“The media should act as watchdog by reporting mergers that have happened in the country,” said Mr Mwemba.

As for Mr Nkhoma, he said there are several ways in which anti-competitive business practices can harm consumer welfare and derail the gains of intra regional trade. 

He said this during his presentation on anti-competitive business practices and the role of the media in enhancing the competition culture. 

He gave examples of two well established firms in a country or region which are engaged in fierce competition with each other. Such competition leads them to independently introduce innovations aimed at outwitting each other on the market such as offering lower prices, discounts, rebates, etc.  The consumer benefits from this rivalry in terms of low prices, high quality, etc. 

He explained the scenario where two firms decide that rather than compete, they agree on what quantities to supply on the market and at what price and quality.  The two firms will end up maximising profits at the expense of consumer welfare. 

“This is what is described as a cartel, a situation where businesses rather than compete, seek to collude to exploit high prices from the market. Markets dominated by cartels will ultimately become complacent in their business decisions and as a result, consumers lose out by way of poor quality products, high prices, etc.,” said Mr Nkhoma.

He also said consumers may also have experienced scenarios where a firm or a collection of firms become so dominant in the market to the extent of behaving without effective constraints from existing competitors or potential competitors. Such dominant firms have an incentive to charge excessive prices knowing that consumers have no alternative of getting similar goods or services anywhere feasible. 

In Seychelles the competition regulator is the Fair Trading Commission (FTC). In a recent press release, FTC said it is setting up a National Competition Policy which comes at a time when Comesa is seeking to harmonise the Comesa competition regulations with domestic competition law. 

The National Competition Policy aims at guiding governments on applying laws, regulations, rules of policies that will allow businesses to compete fairly with one another in order to foster entrepreneurship activity and innovation. 

The policy will also guide the commission in the enforcement of the Fair Competition Act 2009 and will provide a platform upon which national policies can be harmonised with the existing competition law.

Kenya competition landscape active

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Zuku pay-TV launched complaint against DStv in Kenya

As we reported in “Your Choice“, MultiChoice has been an active (if unwilling) player in African antitrust news.  Zuku pay-TV has recently requested the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) to impose a financial penalty on DStv for refusing to re-sell some of its exclusive content like the English Premier League to its rivals.

In its letter to the CAK, Zuku pay-TV accuses MultiChoice, the owners of DStv, of abusing its dominance and curbing the growth of other, competing pay-TV operators. Furthermore, Zuku pay-TV requested the CAK to compel DStv to re-sell some of its exclusive content and impose a financial penalty, which can be up to 10 per cent of a firm’s annual sales, on the South Africa firm. According to Zuku pay-TV, DStv has a market share of 95% in Kenya.

The CAK has not indicated whether it is investigating the complaint yet.

Mr Wang’ombe Kariuki, director of the CAK
Kenya to get leniency policy

In addition to the ongoing pay-TV antitrust dispute, the CAK has drafted a law (the Finance Bill of 2014) which will create a Kenyan cartel leniency programme in order for whistleblower companies and their directors to get off with lighter punishment, for volunteering information that helps to break up cartels, as AAT reported here.

To recap the leniency programme will either grant full immunity for applicants or reduce the applicant’s fines, depending on the circumstances. The Finance Act 2014 is awaiting its third reading in Parliament.

The introduction of a leniency programme in Kenya is a pleasing sight due to leniency programmes’ proving to be an integral and vital tool for uncovering cartels in every jurisdiction in which it has been deployed.

Language barrier persists in Tribunal proceedings

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A report by the South African Citizen discusses the language barriers still present in the Republic today.

The piece, entitled “Tribunal struggles with Afrikaans” by Antoinette Slabbert, notes that the RSA Competition Tribunal has decided to have testimony given in Afrikaans transcribed, together with its English translation, “to ensure the court properly captures what a witness was trying to say.”

The underlying case is the Competition Commission’s case against Media24, alleging an abuse of dominance by squeezing its competitor, Gold-Net News, out of the market for advertising in community newspapers in the Free State Gold Fields between 2004 and 2009.

The Citizen reports:

Tribunal chairperson Norman Manoim asked whether Van Eck would mind testifying in English, since he was concerned about the quality of the translation of her responses the previous day. Media24′s legal team objected, saying Van Eck was already assisting the tribunal by taking questions in English.

The legal representative of the commission pointed out that Van Eck’s English was good. Both legal teams shared Manoim’s concern about the English interpretations. Van Eck said she prefered testifying in her home language to better express herself.

Earlier, Wian Bonthuyzen, Van Eck’s former manager and a key witness, switched from Afrikaans to broken English during his testimony, after another interpreter failed to properly convey his responses to the tribunal.

Cable Cartel may lead to battle of the titans

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.

The Acting Commissioner

The Acting Commissioner

Mobile Telecom and Payments sector getting boost from state in Kenya

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See PDF reprint of this article (published by “e-competitions“) here.
According to a release by the Kenyan Communications Commission (CCK), the CCK is cooperating with the country’s Competition Authority (CAK) to enhance the mobile telecoms sector in Kenya.

The CCK is aiming for 90% of all Kenyans to have access to mobile communications devices within five years, thereby seeking to double the telecoms sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP to a total of 5%.  It is noteworthy that Kenya – a comparatively technologically advanced East African nation that currently already has 76% mobile penetration among its residents – is not only relying on the telecom authority to achieve these goals, but the agency is actively collaborating with the competition watchdog CAK.

An article in HumanIPO quotes the CCK director general, Francis Wangusi, as saying: “We are working with the Competition Authority to ensure that all the mobile money transfer platforms are transparent in order to promote competition.”  The official CCK press release is available here.

Other interesting statistics are the planned increase in internet penetration from the current 41.6% to 70% and that of mobile money services from 58.9% to 70% by the end of the 5-year plan.

Mobile payments have been described as “the epicenter of mobile commerce. The merger of the social, mobile, and payment industries has created incredible business growth opportunities for start-ups, social media, banks, retailers, payment networks, and other companies.”

Use of a mobile device such as a cell phone with SMS or internet capability is particularly widespread in many African countries, where brick-and-mortar banks are scarce and not widely used by the vast majority of the population, whereas mobile phones are omnipresent and relatively easily accessible (see the 76% current penetration rate, which rivals that of developed European economies).

Kenya itself is considered by many to be at the forefront of the African mobile-payments universe, with its M-Pesa mobile-currency system often touted as the most developed mobile-payment system in the world.  The Economist asked rhetorically: “Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?”, pointing out that roughly 25% of Kenya’s GDP flows through the mobile service, with over 17 million users in Kenya alone.  The WorldBank has commented that “Mobile payments go viral [with] M-PESA in Kenya.”  M-Pesa was originally launched in March 2007 by Vodacom/Safaricom in Kenya and is now jointly operated with other carriers offering services in Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan, India and other nations.