Namibian Competition Commission Seeks N$ 51 million penalty imposed on Namib Mills for Abuse of Dominance

By Sr. Contributor Michael-James Currie

The Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC) recently referred Namib Mills to the Windhoek High Court for the imposition of a N$ 51 million (approx. USD 3.5 million) administrative penalty following the NaCC’s finding that Namib Mills has abused its dominance in the market by contractually requiring 54 bakeries to exclusively procure flour from Namib Mills.

In terms of the contractual arrangements, Namib Mills loaned capital to the bakeries for, inter alia, purchasing baking equipment. The tying provisions in the contractual arrangements at the heart of the dispute essentially preclude the respective bakeries from acquiring flour from any flour supplier other than Namib Mills for a period of 5 years. Any breach of this provision enables Namib Mills from calling for the immediate repayment of the loan amount in full (including repossessing the baking equipment if required).

The NaCC has alleged that this contractual restriction precludes other flour suppliers from entering into the market due to Namib Mills’ high market share.

The penalty which the NaCC has requested the High Court impose translates to approximately 2.6% of Namib Mill’s turnover for the previous financial year.

The case is unlikely to be finalised this year. It will, however, be a landmark judgment in relation to the assessment of the abuse of dominance provisions in terms of the Namibian Competition Act (Act).

namibmillsAndreas Stargard, an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd. points out that, to date, there has been a “dearth of precedent in Namibia relating to the manner in which the provisions of section 24 of the Act should be interpreted and specifically what thresholds and criteria the authorities should consider in determining whether a dominant firm has in fact ‘abused’ its dominance or monopolised any relevant market.”  He notes that the company is in fact the largest grain processor in Namibia, with a reported market share of well above 60%, a fact that will “almost certainly play a determinative role in the ultimate decision in the matter.  Foreclosure of rivals, which is clearly the main theory of harm here, requires a degree of market power that the NaCC appears to have found exists in this market, and a two-thirds share is generally accepted in antitrust law as sufficient to establish a risk of foreclosure, when taken together with anti-competitive acts, such as those alleged by the Commission here.”

Unlike its South African counterpart, the Namibian Competition Act does not clearly permit for a rule of reason defence for abuse of dominance conduct (unless specifically excluded, the South African Competition Act does permit for a rule of reason defence). In other words, it is not clear to what extent a complainant must demonstrate actual anti-competitive effects (i.e. foreclosure or consumer welfare effects) and whether pro-competitive, technology or other efficiency arguments are taken into consideration. Furthermore, as John Oxenham, director of Primerio points out, “it is also not clear who bears the onus and what level of proof is required to make a successful showing of an anti-competitive effect”.

Section 24 of the Act expressly prohibits dominants firms from:

  • directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions; or
  • limiting or restricting production, market outlets or market access, investment, technical development or technological progress

Without a clear framework in place, the abuse of dominance provisions could be extremely far reaching. For instance, a dominant firm would clearly need to, from time to time, place certain restrictions on third parties, particularly if the dominant firm has invested or assumed a certain amount of risk on behalf of that third party. Ensuring that a firm is able to safeguard and recoup its investment is inherently pro-competitive as this ensure continuous investment which brings with it innovation, better quality and ultimately lower prices for consumers.

In terms of the broad wording of the Act, however, a key challenge which the authorities face is assessing where one draws the line between exclusionary conduct which is justified by rule of reason arguments and at what point such exclusionary practices constitutes an abuse.

As a general observation, Andreas Stargard notes that “abuse of dominance cases are particularly challenging from an evidentiary point of view and typically require robust economic evidence when grappling with the various theories of harm and rule of reason justifications”.

Accordingly, a further difficulty which both Namib Mills and the NaCC face is that to the extent the High Court permits evidence to be led demonstrating the pro versus anti-competitive effects of the alleged conduct, the High Court may not be best placed to assess the evidence.

Regardless, the outcome of this case will be likely have far reaching consequences for firms who may be considered to be dominant in the Namibian market.

 

[Michael-James Currie is a practicing competition lawyer assisting clients with competition related matters in a number of African jurisdictions. Should you wish to contact Michael-James or any of the AAT contributors, kindly contact us at editor@africanantitrust.com and the AAT team will put you in touch with the relevant individuals]

Advertisements

The African WRAP – JUNE 2017 edition

The first half of 2017 has been an exciting one from a competition law perspective for a number of African countries. As certain agencies have taken a more robust approach to enforcement while others have been actively pursuing or developing their own domestic competition law legislation. Further, there is an increasingly prevalent interplay between domestic laws with regional competition law and policy in an effort to harmonise and promote regional integration.

In this addition of the WRAP, we highlight some of the key antitrust developments taking place across the continent. The editors at AAT have featured a number of articles which provide further insight and commentary on various topics and our readers are encouraged to visit the AAT Blog for further materials and useful updates.


AAT is indebted to the continuous support and assistance of Primerio and its directors in sharing their insights and expertise on various African antitrust related matters. To contact a Primerio representative, please see the Primerio brochure for contact details. Alternatively, please visit Primerio’s website


 

Kenya

Grocery Market Inquiry

On 27 January 2017, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) exercised its powers in terms of section 18 (1) (a) of the Competition Act, 2010, to conduct a market inquiry into the branded retail sector.

The key issues which the CAK’s will focus on during the inquiry include:

  1. the allocation of shelf space and the relative bargaining power between retailers and their suppliers;
  2. the nature of and the extent of exclusive agreements at one stop shop destinations and their effects on competition;
  3. the pricing strategies retailers employ especially in regards to responding to new entrants;
  4. whether there are any strategic barriers to entry created by incumbent firms to limit entry in the market; and
  5. the effect of the supermarkets branded products on competition

Legislative amendments

The Kenya Competition Act (Act) has undergone a number of amendments in the past year.

Most notably, however, section 24 of the Act, which deals with abuse of dominance generally, has been amended to also cater for an abuse of “buyer power”.

Without being exhaustive, a number of practices which would typically constitute an abuse of dominance include:

  1. imposing unfair purchasing or selling prices;
  2. limiting or restricting output, market access or technological advancements;
  3. tying and/or bundling as part of contractual terms; or
  4. abusing intellectual property rights.

In terms of the definition of “dominance” in the Act, a firm will be considered dominant if that firm has greater than a 50% market share.

The amendment, as drafted, raises a number of concerns as previously noted on AAT.

Botswana

Merger control – Prior Implementation

On 17 February 2017, the Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) prohibited a merger between Universal House (Pty) Ltd and Mmegi Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

The CA prohibited the merger on the grounds that the transaction was likely to lead to a substantial prevention or lessening of competition in the market. In particular, the CA held that the “market structure in the provision of commercial radio broadcasting services will be altered, and as such raises competition and public interest concerns”.

At the stage of ordering the divestiture, a suitable third party had not yet been identified and the merging parties were obliged to sell the 28.73 shares to a third party “with no business interests affiliated in any way with the acquiring entity”. The divestiture was also to take place within three months of the CA’s decisions and, should the thresholds be met for a mandatorily notifiable merger, the CA would require that the proposed divestiture also be notified.

South Africa

Follow-on Civil Liability

A second civil damages award was imposed in 2017 on South Africa’s national airline carrier, SAA, following the Competition Tribunal’s finding that SAA had engaged in abuse of dominance practices, in favour of Comair. This award comes after the first ever successful follow-on civil damages claim in South Africa (as a result of competition law violation) which related to Nationwide’s civil claim against SAA.  In the Nationwide matter, the High Court awarded, (in August 2016) damages to Nationwide in the amount of R325 million.   Comair claim for damages was based on the same cause of action as Nationwide’s claim. The High Court, however, awarded damages in favour of Comair of R554 million plus interest bring the total award to over a R1 billion (or about US$ 80 million).

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further insights into this case.

Market Inquiries

The SACC published a notice in the Government Gazette on 10 May 2017, indicating that it will conduct a market inquiry into the Public Passenger Transport sector (PPT Inquiry) which is scheduled to commence in June 2017.

The PPT inquiry, is expected to span two years and will involve public hearings, surveys and meetings with stakeholders which will cover all forms of (land-based) public passenger transport. The SACC indicated in its report that “…it has reason to believe that there are features or a combination of features in the industry that may prevent, distort or restrict competition, and / or to achieve the purpose of the Competition Act”.

Legislative amendments

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently published draft guidelines for determining the administrative penalty applicable for prior implementing a merger in contravention of the South African Competition Acts’ merger control provisions (the Draft Guidelines).

In terms of the penalty calculations, the Draft Guidelines prescribe a minimum administrative penalty of R5 million (USD 384 615) for the prior implementation of an intermediate merger and a R20 million (USD 1.5 million) penalty for implementing a large merger prior to being granted approval. The Draft Guidelines cater further for a number of aggravating or mitigating factors which may influence the quantum of the penalty ultimately imposed.

Egypt

Investigations

The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA), has also referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights. This follows the COMESA Competition Commission also electing to investigate this conduct.

In addition, it has been reported that the ECA has initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Mauritius

Minimum resale price maintenance

In a landmark judgment, the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) recently concluded its first successful prosecution in relation to Resale Price Maintenance (RPM), which is precluded in terms of Section 43 of the Mauritius Competition Act 25 of 2007 (Competition Act).

The CCM held that Panagora Marketing Company Ltd (Panagora) engaged in prohibited vertical practices by imposing a minimum resale price on its downstream dealers and consequently fined Panagora Rs 29 932 132.00 (US$ 849,138.51) on a ‘per contravention’ basis. In this regard, the CMM held that Panagora had engaged in three separate instances of RPM and accordingly the total penalty paid by Pangora was Rs 3 656 473.00, Rs 22 198 549.00 and Rs4 007 110.00 respectively for each contravention.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for further information.

Leniency Policy

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM). The CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

COMESA

The COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) announced early 2017 that it will be investigating allegations of exclusionary conduct in relation to the Confederate of African Football’s (CAF) decision to extend an exclusive marketing of broadcasting rights and sponsorship agreement with Lagardère Sports in relation CAF tournaments.

Please see AAT’s featured article here for more information.

What to look out for?

Zambia

Guidelines

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) published series of guidelines and policies during 2016. These included adopting a formal Leniency Policy as well as guidelines for calculating administrative penalties.

In addition, the CCPC also published draft “Settlement Guidelines” which provides a formal framework for parties seeking to engage the CCPV for purposes of reaching a settlement. The Settlement Guidelines present a number of practical challenges as currently drafted. One example is that the guidelines don’t cater or seem to recognise “without prejudice” settlement negotiations.

It is anticipated that the draft Settlement Guidelines will be formally adopted this year.

Please click here to read the feature article on AAT.

Namibia

In April 2017, the CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

For further commentary on this development, please see AAT’s featured article.

Nigeria

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation. The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016, however, recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  The Bill is, therefore, expected to be brought into effect during the latter part of 2017 or early 2018.

South Africa

Market inquiries

The Minister of the Department of Economic Development, who has fulfills the oversight function of the South African Competition Authorities, has announced that a market inquiry will be conducted in relation to the “high costs of Data” in South Africa.

This would be the fifth formal market inquiry since the Competition Act was amended to afford the Competition Commission with formal powers to conduct market inquiries.

Complex monopoly provisions

Both Minister Patel and the President have announced that the Competition Act will undergo further legislative amendments in order to address perceived high levels of concentration in certain industries.

In this regard, it is likely that the competition amendment act’s provisions relating to abuse of dominance and complex monopolies, which was drafted in 2009, will be brought into effect.

In terms of the provisions, as currently drafted, where five or less firms have 75% market share in the same market, a firm could be found to have engaged in prohibited conduct if any two or more of those firms collectively act in a parallel manner which has the effect of lessening competition in the market (i.e. by creating barriers to entry, charging excessive prices or exclusive dealing and “other market characteristics which indicate coordinated behavior”).

Please see AAT’s feature article here for further commentary.

Namibia Competition Commission: New Franchise Laws to Address Anti-Competitive Concerns

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

The CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, recently announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

Currently, there is no specific ‘franchise law’ in Namibia and moreover, franchisees are not required to apply to the Minister of Trade and Industry for registration of an ‘approval’ licences. Accordingly, there is minimal regulatory oversight in respect of franchise models.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

Unlike a number of jurisdictions, including South Africa, however, collusive conduct is not prohibited per se and a franchise agreement or model will, therefore, only amount to a contravention of the Namibia Competition Act if there is (or likely to be) an anti-competitive effect which cannot be justified or outweighed by other pro-competitive or efficiency arguments (i.e. rule of reason arguments).

The rule of reason analysis also extends to ‘minimum resale price maintenance’ (MRPM) under Namibian competition law. Again, unlike the position in South Africa, MRPM is not a per se prohibition (i.e. there is rule of reason defence available to a respondent). MRPM in terms of the South African Competition Act is a controversial topic as in many instances, the very success of a franchise model is dependent on uniformity in pricing across all franchisees. Furthermore, issues such as protecting brand reputation are also generally acceptable commercial practices which may amount to a contravention due to the strict application of the MRPM provisions under South African law.

In Namibia, franchisors therefore have somewhat more flexibility when recommending minimum resale prices than their South African counterparts. It should be noted, however, that the NCC is monitoring franchise models closely to ensure that franchisors do not overstep the mark by implementing a franchise model which has as its object or effect, the lessening of competition in the market.

Notifying African M&A – balancing burdens & costs

Merger filings in Africa remain costly and cumbersome

By AAT guest contributor Heather Irvine, Esq.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission (COMESA) recently announced that it has received over US$3 million in merger filing fees between December 2015 and October 2016.

heatherirvineAbout half of these fees (approximately $1.5 million) were allocated to the national competition authorities in various COMESA states. However, competition authorities in COMESA member states – including Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe – continue to insist that merging parties lodge separate merger filings in their jurisdiction. This can add significant transactional costs – the filing fee in Kenya alone for a merger in which the merging parties combined generate more than KES 50 billion (about US $ 493 million) in Kenya is KES 2 million (nearly US $ 20 000). Since Kenya is one of the Continent’s largest economies, significant numbers of global transactions as well as those involving South African firms investing in African businesses are caught in the net.

Merging parties are in effect paying African national competition authorities twice to review exactly the same proposed merger. And they are not receiving quicker approvals or an easier fling process in return. Low merger thresholds mean that even relatively small transactions, often with no impact on competition at all, may trigger multiple filings. There is no explanation for why COMESA member states have failed to amend their local competition laws despite signing the COMESA treaty over 2 years ago.

Filing fees are even higher if a proposed cross-border African merger transaction involves a business in Tanzania or Swaziland– the national authorities there have recently insisted that filing fees must be calculated based on the merging parties’ global turnover (even though the statutory basis for these demands are not clear).

The problem will be exacerbated even further if more regional African competition authorities, like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the proposed East African Competition authority, commence active merger regulation.

Although memoranda of understanding were recently signed between South Africa and some other relatively experienced competition regulators on the Continent, like Kenya and Namibia, there are generally few formal procedures in place to harmonise merger filing requirements, synchronise the timing of reviews or align the approach of the regulators to either competition law or public interest issues.

The result is high filing fees, lots of duplicated effort and documents on the part of merging parties and the regulators, and slow merger reviews.

If African governments are serious about attracting global investors, they should prioritise the harmonisation of national and regional competition law regimes.

Namibian Competition Commission Conducts Dawn Raid in the Oil & Gas sector

namibiaBy AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

Dawn raids are gaining significant traction throughout the African agencies following the Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC) very recent (16 September 2016), raid conducted at the operations at Puma Energy in Windhoek. The raid follows the NaCC having received numerous third party complaints alleging that Puma Energy was abusing its dominance by engaging in excessive pricing practices in the aviation fuel supply market.

The NaCC had recently published Guidelines in relation to Restrictive Practices. The Guidelines focus primarily on the NaCC’s investigative powers and in particular, search and seizure operations. Africanantitrust suspected that the Guidelines would result in a move by the agency to be more proactive in its efforts to detect, prosecute and ultimately combat anti-competitive practices.

Africanantitrust had noted that search and seizure operations by competition law agencies across Africa were on the rise. The South African Competition Commission has drastically increased its utilisation of dawn raids as an investigative tool in its arsenal. The SACC has, furthermore, provided guidance and training to a number of other African jurisdictions respective agencies on search and seizure operations and how to conduct effective dawn raids under the auspices of the African Competition Forum.  Says John Oxenham, competition practitioner with Pr1merio: “2016 saw Kenya conduct its first dawn raid in the fertiliser sector as well as Zambia increasing the number of dawn raids conducted.”

The South African Competition Commission’s advocacy efforts should be considered in light of the number of recently concluded Memoranda of Understanding which the SACC has entered into with other regional agencies as well, including the NaCC.

In terms of the MoU with Namibia, it is envisaged that there will be greater cooperation in relation to information exchanges and assistance with common investigations between the NaCC and the SACC.

The NaCC is yet to prosecute an abuse of dominance case and we will ensure that Africanantrust continues to monitor this case and provide our followers with timeous updates should any significant further developments take place.

“The WRAP” — our monthly summary of antitrust developments across the continent

AAT Header square

Competition-Law Developments: a WRAP from the Comp-Corner

Issue 2 – August 2016

The editors and authors at AAT welcome you to the second edition of “The WRAP.”

We look at the most recent developments and updates in respect of competition law and enforcement which has taken place across the African continent in recent months.

As always, thank you for reading the WRAP, and remember to visit us at AAT for up-to-date competition-law news from the African continent.

         –Ed. (we wish to thank our contributors, especially Michael James Currie, for their support)

Cooperation, handshakes & MoUs: all the rage in African antitrust?

AAT the big picture

Significant Strides made to Promote Harmonisation across African Competition Agencies

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

In the past 12 months there has been a steady drive by competition law agencies in Africa to promote harmonisation between the respective jurisdictions.

The African regional competition authority, the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), has entered into memorandum of understandings with a number of its nineteen member states. On 5 June 2016, it was announced that the CCC has further concluded MoU’s with the Swaziland Competition Commission as well as the Fair Trade Commission of the Seychelles.

On 7 May 2016, it was announced that nine members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have also entered into and MoU. These member states include South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Swaziland, Seychelles, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia.

The SADC MoU was based on the 2009 SADC Declaration on Regional Cooperation and Consumer Policies.

SADC MoUAccording to the South African Competition Commissioner, Mr Tembinkosi Bonakele, the MoU creates a framework for cooperation enforcement within the SADC region.  “The MoU provides a framework for cooperation in competition enforcement within the SADC region and we are delighted to be part of this historic initiative,” said Bonakele.

Interestingly, although a number of the signatories to SADC MoU are not member states of COMESA (that is, South Africa and Namibia, who in turn, have a MoU between their respective competition authorities), Swaziland, Malawi and the Seychelles have existing MoU’s with the COMESA Competition Commission. Says Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd., “it will be interesting to see, first, whether there may be conflicts that arise out of the divergent patchwork of cooperation MoUs, and second, to what extent the South African Competition Authorities, for example, could indirectly benefit from the broader cooperation amongst the various jurisdiction and regional authorities.”

Part of the objectives of the MoUs to date has largely been to facilitate an advocacy role. However, from a practical perspective, the SADC MoU envisages broader information exchanges and coordination of investigations.

While the MoU’s are a positive stride in achieving cross-border harmonisation, it remains to be seen to what extent the collaboration will assist the respective antitrust agencies in detecting and prosecuting cross border anticompetitive conduct.

There may be a number of practical and legal hurdles which may provide challenges to the effective collaboration envisaged. The introduction of criminal liability for cartel conduct in South Africa, for example, may provide challenges as to how various agencies obtain and share evidence.

Namibia: NaCC issues Guidelines on Restrictive Practices

By Michael-James Currie

In April 2016, the Namibian Competition Commission (NaCC) finalised its guidelines on restrictive practices (Guidelines) in terms of chapter three of the Namibian Competition Act. The Guidelines focus in particular on the investigatory powers and procedures to be utilised by the NaCC during its investigations into restrictive practices.

The Namibian Competition Act contains most of the traditional antitrust prohibitions in relation to restrictive conduct. These include ‘agreements’ or ‘concerted practices’ between firms in a horizontal or vertical relationship which have the “object” or “effect” of substantially lessening competition in the market.

The Competition Act does not, from a plain reading of the language, impose a per se prohibition for ‘hardcore’ cartel conduct. The Guidelines, however, confirm that certain practices such as ‘hardcore cartel conduct’ and ‘minimum resale price maintenance’ will be considered per se to be anticompetitive. It is unclear, however, whether this per se contravention should rather serve as a presumption that the conduct is anti-competitive which may affect the onus of proof, rather, as in the South African context where the Act makes it clear that the effect of hardcore cartel conduct is irrelevant.

Furthermore, there is no express provision which deals with ‘rule of reason’ defences, however, the Guidelines confirm that efficiency or pro-competitive features of the alleged anti-competitive conduct, may outweigh any anti-competitive effect. It should be noted, however, that even if there was no anti-competitive effect, if the objective of the conduct was to engage in an anti-competitive agreement or concerted practice, a respondent may still be liable. Accordingly, conduct must not only be shown not to have an anti-competitive effect, but must also be properly ‘characterised’ as not being anti-competitive, in order to avoid liability.

The Namibian Competition Act also prohibits abuse of dominance conduct. The Act does not contain thresholds or criteria for deterring when a firm would be considered ‘dominant’, however, in term of the Competition Commission’s Rules, a firm:

  • will be considered dominant if it has above a 45% market share;
  • will be presumed dominant if it has between 35-45% market share (unless it can show it does not have market power); or
  • has a market share of less than 35%, but has market power.

Although the abuse of dominant provision is intended to prohibit a broad range of potential anti-competitive conduct, the Act in particular, notes the following conduct which, if a firm is dominant, is restricted:

  • directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions;
  • limiting or restricting production, market outlets or market access, investment, technical development or technological progress;
  • applying dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties; and
  • making the conclusion of contracts subject to acceptance by other parties of supplementary conditions which by their nature or according to commercial usage have no connection with the subject-matter of the contracts.”

Importantly, the Namibian Competition Act does not state that the conduct identified above must lead to a substantial-lessening of competition in the market. Furthermore, in terms of the Guidelines, the NaCC not only considers the conduct of and individual firm, but also considers the conduct of a “number of connected undertakings acting collectively” for purposes of considering whether there has been an “abuse of dominance”.

It should be noted that the Namibian Competition Act does cater for exemptions from the application of Chapter 3 (i.e. restrictive practices) and sets out in some detail the requirements and terms upon which an exemption may be granted.

As noted above, however, the most elements contained in the Guidelines relate to the NaCC’s investigatory powers.

In terms of the Namibian Competition Act, the NaCC may initiate a complaint or may elect to investigate a third party complaint.

The NaCC‘s investigatory powers include the power to conduct search and seizure operations. Importantly, the NaCC may take into possession any evidence which, in its opinion, will assist in the investigation. This is so even if such evidence would not be admissible as evidence in a court of law. For purposes of obtaining witness statements, however, a witness has the same rights and privileges as a witness before a court of law.

The Guidelines also confirm that the NaCC is not entitled to peruse or seize “legally privileged” documents unless privilege is waived. Interestingly, the Guidelines do not appear to protect communication between in-house legal and the firm and refers to legally privileged communication as that between “lawyer and client” only.

Search and seizure operations must be conducted in terms of a valid search warrant.

The Guidelines also contains further guidance on various topics and caters for a number of procedural aspects which must be adhered to (as well as the prescribed forms which should be utilised in certain circumstances) in relation to, inter alia the following:

  • initiating complaint;
  • applying for an exemption;
  • requesting an advisory opinion;
  • handling and the use of ‘confidential information’;

The Guidelines is no doubt a stern indication that the NaCC is preparing to heighten its intensity in terms of investigating and prosecuting restrictive practices. Since inception, the NaCC has dealt with over 450 merger cases, but has only handled approximately 40 restrictive practice complaints.

Furthermore, and in line with the NaCC’s newly adopted 5 year ‘Strategic Plan (2015-2020), the NaCC is growing in confidence and competence and firms should be aware that the NaCC will look to utilise the dawn raids provisions when necessary.

Namibian Competition Act to be Amended

By Michael-James Currie

The Namibian Competition Commission (“NaCC”) has recently confirmed that the NaCC has submitted proposals to the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development (“Ministry”) relating to possible amendments to the Namibian Competition Act.

namibiaAAT does not yet know exactly what the nature and scope of the proposed amendments are, although the NaCC has indicated that the current Act, which was promulgated in 2003, is out of date and does not sufficiently cater for Namibia’s context (relating both to Namibia’s economic and socio-economic environment).

Furthermore, the NaCC has indicated that the amendments are aimed at increasing the NaCC’s enforcement capabilities and address ‘loopholes’ in the current Act.

In this regard, Minister Calle Schlettwein under whose portfolio the NaCC falls, stated that: “I am made to understand that in the years ahead, the Commission will focus on moving forward as a highly competent and equipped market regulator, especially in addressing market distortions on monopolistic and collusive behaviour and inefficiencies on price formation processes in the country that impact on the consumer welfare and the broader structure of the economy.  To this end, its activities are to be driven by the adoption of a National Competition Policy as well as revisions to the Competition Act.

As Andreas Stargard notes, ‘[i]t would not be surprising if the proposed amendments related to “complex monopolies” and the introduction of criminal sanctions for cartel conduct,’ as this would be in line with the amendments made to the South African Competition Act (although not yet in force).  “Moreover, the Namibian commission will also likely cater for so-called ‘public interest’ elements in its enforcement strategy, as we have seen in several African jurisdictions.”  Stargard’s law partner at Pr1merio, John Oxenham, likewise emphasises “the strong ties between the two respective competition authorities” in southern Africa:

“The NaCC has often taken the lead from the South African competition authorities in respect of the interpretation and enforcement of competition law matters. The Namibian Competition Act is also largely moulded around the South African Competition Act.”

The strong links between the two respective authorities culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding under the heading, “In the field of competition law, enforcement and policy”MOU-COMPETITION-COMMISSION-SOUTH-AFRICA-and-NAMIBIAN-COMPETITION-COMMISSION

The spokesperson for the NaCC has said that “the aim of the review is to strengthen the enforcement capabilities and machinery of the commission and to close loopholes that exist within the current law.  Our Competition Act is similar, in many ways, to that of South Africa and the amendment thereof will only raise our standards to international best practices but within the context of Namibia.”

Schlettwein is on record as saying: “I am made to understand that in the years ahead, the Commission will focus on moving forward as a highly competent and equipped market regulator, especially in addressing market distortions on monopolistic and collusive behaviour and inefficiencies on price formation processes in the country that impact on the consumer welfare and the broader structure of the economy.

“To this end, its activities are to be driven by the adoption of a National Competition Policy as well as revisions to the Competition Act.”

In sum, given that the proposed introduction of a “complex monopolies” offence and criminal sanctions in South Africa has led a number of practioners in that country questioning the constitutionality or the practicality of the these amendments, it will be interesting to see whether the NaCC takes these concerns into consideration assuming we at AAT are indeed correct that these are the amendments which the NaCC is also proposing to introduce.

Raising merger notification thresholds

Namibia fine-tunes its M&A review

By AAT guest author Anne Brigot-Laperrousaz

Under the Namibian Competition Act (the “Act”), which came into law in April 2003, the term “merger” covers all three common types of M&A activity, as well as joint ventures; above certain thresholds, a merger becomes compulsorily notifiable.  On December 21, 2015, the Namibian Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, in accordance with the powers conferred upon it under s43(1) and (2) of the Act, published a notice containing remarkable changes to the thresholds triggering the application of the merger regulations under the Act and thereby a compulsory notification.

Former thresholds

The previously applicable government notice on the determination of those thresholds, dated December 24, 2012, had established the following triggering values:

  • The combined assets, or combined annual turnover in, into or from Namibia of the acquiring and target undertakings exceed N$20 million (US$1.578 million, based on the Bank of Namibia 2015 average exchange rate)

or

  • The annual turnover of one of the undertaking plus the assets of the other undertaking exceed N$20 million

or

  • The asset value or the annual turnover in, into or from Namibia of the target undertaking exceeds N$10 million (US$ 789,000)

Revised thresholds

John Oxenham, an Africa practitioner with advisory firm Pr1merio, notes that  “[t]he December 2015 Government notice raised those thresholds by 50%, i.e. N$30 million and N$15 million respectively (US$ 2.367 and 1.1835 million). Furthermore, the revised notice sets out a two-tier calculation of the triggering thresholds, with two cumulative values to be considered,” as follows:

  • First, the combined assets, on the one hand, or annual turnover, on the other hand of the involved entities;
  • or, the cumulated value of the assets of one entity, and of the annual turnover of the other.
  • Yet even if one of those values exceeds N$30 million, the operation need not be notified if either the asset value of the annual turnover of the transferred undertaking is equal to or valued below N$15 million.

In other words, M&A targeting relatively small firms will not need to be notified, no matter how large the acquiring entity may be.

Yet the new notice maintains the possibility for the enforcement agency, the Namibian Competition Commission (the “Commission”), which came into operation in December 2008, to demand notification of a merger falling below those thresholds, if it considers it necessary to deal with the merger in terms of the Act.

namibiaAlthough the rationale of this provision is relatively clear, its phrasing raises questions as to the way it should be implemented. It is reasonable to believe that this regulation simply aims at allowing the Commission to investigate in all cases it deems useful. Indeed, the purpose of the thresholds is to sort out the potentially hazardous operations, as a form of “pre-selection” so as to avoid obstructing the Commission. But those thresholds should not bear the adverse consequence of preventing the Commission to exercise its control when it has reasonable grounds to consider that a “smaller” operation may cause harm to competition.

The notice lacks explicitly stated and pre-determined factors that could lead the Commission to such a finding, a loophole that arguably leaves way for arbitrary decisions. This goes against international best practices, as reaffirmed once again in a 2005 OECD report, considering that the criteria to determine whether a merger must be notified should be clear and objective.

Furthermore, it is unclear how the Commission could determine that a “small” merger needs to be notified, prior to any investigation. If this regulation simply requires the firms to provide the Commission with the information that would be asked in case of a mandatory notification, it is regrettable to make this unnecessary detour instead of recognising the Commission’s powers to request relevant documents and information as part of its general investigatory function.

As for the modification of the thresholds themselves, recent commentaries have praised the initiative, describing it as a “positive development”.

The explanatory note accompanying the Government notice referred, in particular, to the Recommended Practices of the International Competition Network (the “ICN”), together with comparative studies and analysis of the past efficiency of the thresholds’ level, as the basis for this reform.

Indeed, one of the first recommendations of the ICN is that “merger notification thresholds should incorporate appropriate standards of materiality as to the level of ‘local nexus’ required for merger notification”. The first comment of the ICN working group on this recommendation states that “each jurisdiction should seek to screen out transactions that are unlikely to result in appreciable competitive effects within its territory”. In particular, the material sales or assets level within the territory shall be important enough to justify the additional transaction costs entailed by the obligation to notify the operation.

In the case of Namibia in particular, a UNCTAD peer review conducted in 2014, while acknowledging the “fairly good competition law as enshrined in the Competition Act”, recommended a revision of the Namibian merger control. In particular, the UNCTAD report advocated for a review upwards of merger notification thresholds. In that regards, the Commission’s initiative is much welcome. Indeed, the UNCTAD report praised the Act for taking into account special requirements of the country’s economy, characterised by small undertakings. Arguably, the revised thresholds go a step further in this positive direction.

Conclusion

The public statistics on the Commission’s achievements show that since its setting up in 2009, the Commission’s M&A division has handled over 200 mergers. In November 2015, the Commission announced that it received a total of 60 merger notifications, of which 48 were approved during the current financial year of 2015/2016. The announced total value or purchase consideration for these merger notifications was about N$23,2 billion, and N$19,2 billion for the 48 approved mergers. Yet since “about 99%” of the total purchase consideration paid during the first quarter was one transaction, the relevance of the revised thresholds appears clearly.