#COMESA21: New member states, new commissioners

#COMESA21

In a milestone enlargement of the (now formerly) 19-member COMESA region, Tunisia and Somalia have acceded to the trade bloc at the 20th COMESA Summit on 19th July 2018, creating #COMESA21 – Africa’s largest free trade region.

Their application to join had been pending since 2016.  Under the Treaty, the new members will be bound by the provisions of the Treaty and must deposit their formal instrument of acceptance of the terms of admission with the Secretary General, together with an instrument of accession pursuant to Articles 194 and 195 of the Treaty with regard to a State admitted to full membership.  Says Primerio’s Andreas Stargard, “with the privilege of membership comes the obligation of agreeing to abide by the antitrust rules promulgated under the COMESA Treaty.  This includes the Competition Commission’s procedural and substantive rules and notably its merger regulations.  It remains to be seen how the still weakened bureaucratic structure of the Somali Republic will be able to implement the strictures of a working competition-law regime…

Indeed, the CCC’s recent Notice No. 2/2018 provides that “the provisions of the COMESA Competition Regulations of 2004, and its accompanying rules, shall be enforceable in the territories of the Republic of Tunisia and the Federal Republic of Somalia with immediate effect.”

Personnel News 2018

In addition to gaining two new member states, COMESA also underwent personnel changes, adding an experienced antitrust practitioner, Zimbabwean Competition and Tariff Commission director, Ellen Ruparanganda, as one of the nine CCC commissioners, for a term of three years.  Besides Ms. Ruparanganda, Francis Lebon (Seychelles), Ali Hamadou Ali Kako (Djibouti), Thembelihle Dube (Eswatini, formerly Swaziland), Danson Buya Mungatana (Kenya), Michael Teklu Beyene (Ethiopia), Charlotte Wezi Malonda (Malawi), Islam Tagelsir Ahmed Alhasan (Sudan), and Brian Muletambo Lingela (Zambia) were also sworn in.

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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.

COMESA enters into agreement with Seychelles antitrust regulator

Information-sharing, investigative assistance, and capacity-building at forefront of MoU

As reported by the Swaziland Observer, the Seychelles Competition Commission and COMESA’s Competition Commission have entered, on 20 April 2016, into a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to deepen the cooperation and coordination between the two agencies (as well as the Seychelles Fair Trading Commission).  Republic of Seychelles has been a member of COMESA since its accession to the common market in 1997.

 

image The MoU creates positions of “desk officers” in each agency to ensure that the institutions will cooperate on investigations and share relevant information to ensure enforcement.  It also foresees policy coordination, technical assistance and capacity-building programs.

FTC Seychelles CEO Georges Tirant pointed out that the MoU merely formalises what has already been a day-to-day reality, with the aim of legislative harmonisation and ultimately regional integration.  “I have a dream that all African member states should work together for a better Africa,” he said.  COMESA Competition Commission Board Chairman Mattews Chikankheni said that it would “improve efficiency in day to day processes, remove entry barriers create an enabling ground for small businesses and medium enterprises which will enable economic growth, job creation and reduce poverty.”

COMESA old flag colorseychellesCCC Chief Executive Officer George Lipimile emphasised the need to create jobs and “link industries,” as well as explain the agency’s mission: “We are going to work hard so that competition laws make sense to the people, because a law that does not benefit people is useless.”

COMESA antitrust authority swears in 4 new commissioners

COMESA out of service

Four new Commissioners sworn in – while COMESA’s own site fails to make announcement

We do not commonly report on news from the Seychelles here on AAT, but today, the Office of the President of the Seychelles has in fact beat AAT (as well as the COMESA Competition Commission itself (!)) to it: as the Office reports, the 18th COMESA Summit, held on 30th March 2015 in Addis Ababa, (a city that I have fallen in love with, by the way), saw the swearing-in of four new COMESA Competition Commissioners.

The summit also saw the swearing in of Mr. George Tirant, Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Fair Trading Commission. Mr. Tirant was appointed as a commissioner on the COMESA Competition Commission, alongside representatives from Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia.

We have not yet identified the other new members that were sworn in this week, but in admitting so we note in the same breath that it is surprising for the authority itself not to have this relevant item anywhere on its site, neither in the News category nor anywhere else.  Indeed, the reader looks in vain for even a cursory Press Release announcing that 4 new Commissioners were seated for a new term of 3 years each. COMESA’s site still shows the outdated list of its Commissioners (copied below the photo below).

Irregular?  Perhaps.  But then again, we are used to outages and unfortunately much worse from the COMESA Competition Commission web site.

AAT notes that, in addition to the four new competition commissioners, the 19-country IGO also welcomed new:

  • Judge President and Judges of the Appellate Division of the COMESA Court of Justice
  • Principal Judge and Judges of the First Instance Division of the COMESA Court of Justice
  • the COMESA Committee of Elders
COMESA's 18th Summit in Ethiopia

COMESA’s 18th Summit in Ethiopia

[Outdated] List of Commissioners from Comp Comm web site:

  1. Commissioner Alexander Juvensio Kububa : Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners and former Chief Executive Officer of the Competition and Tariff Commission of Zimbabwe.
  2. Commissioner Mathews Chikankheni: Vice Chairperson of the Board of Commissioner and President of the Malawi Confederation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  3. Commissioner Ali Mohamed Afkada: Inspector General des Services Judiciarisés’ de Djibouti.
  4. Commissioner Daniel Phillip Gappy – Former Chief Executive Officer of Fair Trading Commission of Seychelles and Chief Executive Officer of Seychelles Licensing Authority.
  5. Commissioner Rajeev Hasnah: former Deputy Director of Competition Commission of Mauritius.
  6. Commissioner Francis Kariuki: Director General of Competition Authority of Kenya.Commissioner Rajeev Hasnah:  Chief Economist and Deputy Executive Director of the Competition Commission of Mauritius.
  7. Commissioner Thabisile Pearl Langa’: Chief Executive Officer of Swaziland Competition Commission.
  8.  Commissioner Rostom Omar: Former Legal Counselor of Egyptian Competition Commission.
  9. Commissioner Chilufya Sampa: Chief Executive Officer of Competition Commission of Zambia

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.