Pan-African Antitrust Round-Up: Mauritius to Egypt & Tunisia (in)to COMESA

A spring smorgasbord of African competition-law developments

As AAT reported in late February, it is not only the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), but also the the Egyptian antitrust authorities, which now have 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.  In addition, it has been reported that the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) has also initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation (as AAT has reported on here, here, here and here).

But, notes Andreas Stargard, an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd., “this status quo is possibly about to change: still waiting for the country’s Senate approval and presidential sign-off, the so-called Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016 recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  Especially in light of the Nigerian economy’s importance to trade in the West African sphere, swift enactment of the bill would be a welcome step in the right direction.”

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM), but with a twist: in a departure from U.S. and EU models, which usually do not afford amnesty to the lead perpetrators of hard-core antitrust violations, 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.

The Executive Director of the CCM, Deshmuk Kowlessur, is quoted in the official agency statement as follows:

‘The policy worldwide including Mauritius, regarding leniency for cartel is that the initiators of cartel cannot benefit from leniency programmes and get immunity from or reduction in fines. The amnesty for cartel initiatorsis a one-off opportunity for cartel initiators to benefit from immunity or up to 100% reduction in fines as provided for under the CCM’s leniency programme. The amnesty is a real incentive for any enterprise to end its participation in a cartel. In many cases it is not clear for the cartel participant itself as to which participant is the initiator. The participants being unsure whether they are an initiator finds it too risky to disclose the cartel and apply for leniency. The amnesty provides this unique window of 6 months where such a cartel participant can apply and benefit from leniency without the risk of seeing its application rejected on ground of it being an initiator.’

 

COMESA Competition Commission logoFinally, COMESA will grow from 19 to 20 member states, welcoming Tunisia at the upcoming October 2017 summit: the official statement notes that “Tunisia first applied for observer status in COMESA in 2005 but the matter was not concluded. In February, 2016 the country formally wrote to the Secretary General making inquiries on joining COMESA. This set in motion the current process towards its admission. once successfully concluded, Tunisia will become the 20[th] member of COMESA.”

This means that within 6 months of accession to the Common Market, Tunisia’s business community will be bound by the competition regulations (including merger control) enforced by the CCC.  Speaking of the CCC, the agency also recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mauritian CCM on March 24, facilitating inter-agency coordination.  In addition, the Zimbabwean Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) will host a national sensitisation workshop on COMESA competition policy on May 16, 2017 in Harare, purportedly as a result of “over 50 transactions involving cross-border mergers notified” to the CCC involving the Zimbabwean market.  “The main objective of the national workshop is to raise awareness among the key stakeholders and business community in Zimbabwe with regards to the provisions and implementation of COMEA competition law,” the CTC noted in a statement.

 
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Television antitrust saga continues, MultiChoice in the cross-hairs again

Interest group seeks antitrust investigation in free-to-air channels

According to a press release by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the organisation proposed last Friday a Competition Commission investigation into purportedly horizontal agreements between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and MultiChoice.  “This follows an agreement entered into between the two parties in July 2013 whereby the SABC would have to provide a 24-hour news channel on MultiChoice’s DSTV platform,” spokesman Paseka Maleka said.

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MultiChoice in the Cross-Hairs

AAT had reported previously on MultiChoice’s competition woes, including its Botswana Pay-TV and Kenya sports broadcasting headaches, as well as the original post on the S.A. sports-TV rights complaint by rival On Digital Media (“ODM”), which resulted in a referral to ICASA.

The South African publication The Citizen also reported the most recent ICASA attack, noting the alleged “restrictive horizontal practices involved collusion and certain competitor agreements and practices, while restrictive vertical practices involved certain customer or supplier arrangements.”

The full text of the ICASA statement follows:

Johannesburg – The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has recently requested the Competition Commission to investigate a possible restrictive horizontal practice between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and MultiChoice. This follows an agreement entered into between the two parties in July 2013 whereby the SABC would have to provide a 24-hour news channel on MultiChoice’ DSTV platform.

News reports at the time indicated that the agreement also contained an obligation relating to set-top-box control in which the SABC is alleged to have agreed that it will transmit its free-to-air channels without encryption.

In the context of the ongoing public dispute between e.tv and MultiChoice over whether free-to-air TV services should utilise set-top-box control, the question arises as to whether the agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice, as it affects the issue of set-top-box control, may constitute a form of restrictive horizontal practice in the television market.

ICASA has requested both the SABC and MultiChoice to provide a copy of the agreement but both parties have failed to honour that request. This failure has made it difficult for the Authority to verify the claim put forward by MultiChoice that `any contractual obligation upon the SABC to continue to transmit its free-to-air channels in the clear (i.e. without encryption) is an incident of the distribution arrangements agreed upon by the SABC and MultiChoice. Such obligation, as indicated forms part of an agreement between parties in a vertical relationship and is not, as alleged, a horizontal restrictive practice’.

As the issue of restrictive horizontal practices falls within the scope of Section 4 of the Competition Act, the Authority has requested that the Competition Commission open an investigation into this matter.