S.A. dominance in the Nigerian mobile telecom market? MTN concerned.

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AllAfrica.com reports that South African telecom giant MTN is in discussions with Nigeria’s Communications Commission (“NCC”) (again, note that Nigeria doesn’t have a competition law regime) relating to its 44% market share in mobile telephony in the country.

The NCC published its report in PDF format on its web site. The report, entitled “Determination of Dominance in Selected Communications Markets in Nigeria“, states in relevant part:

Nigeria is the fastest growing telecommunications market in Africa, rising from a meagre 500,000 telephone subscribers in 2001 to over 108 million as at December 2012 …

As the news report states, MTN is not accused of any abuse of its market power — that is, the hallmark of a unilateral / dominance case, abuse of dominance, is apparently yet absent from the NCC’s phantom case against the provider. What the NCC is worried about inter alia, however, is the preferential treatment given to MTN’s own customers and calls amongst that group. That’s interesting, because many providers across the world have similar “in-network” call rates (indeed, often even free allowances for in-network calls) without triggering antitrust review. The NCC does not perceive dominance issues in fixed voice or mobile data market segments. Rather than relying on the investigated operators’ submissions (proposing, among other things, to use a simple Herfindahl-Hirschman Index determination to see if the market segments were ‘concerntrated’), the NCC’s report lays out quite nicely how it used a “Structure‐Conduct‐Performance (SCP) model”.

The SCP model postulates that the structure of a market determines to large extent the conduct of the participants in the market, which in turn, influences the performance of the firms within the market with respect to profitability and efficiency.

We’ll see where this one goes. Perhaps it simply serves to reinforce our prior question: Is it not time for Nigeria to have its own, proper competition-law regime?

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South Africa targets private healthcare sector in CC’s ‘market investigation’

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As reported today by Reuters and SA MoneyWeb, the South African government has announced that the South African Competition Commission will launch an investigation into the private healthcare sector. This is part of a larger initiative to conduct so-called “market inquiries,” on which we previously reported here and here, and which are a direct consequence of the March 2013 effective date of the South African Competition Amendment Act of 2009.

The Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said that “[v]arious stakeholders have raised concerns about pricing, costs and the state of competition and innovation in private healthcare.”

Likely affected companies are all major players in the healthcare industry, including providers such as Life Healthcare, Mediclinic International and Netcare Ltd.

Parties turn a cold shoulder: Is COMESA’s CCC being ignored … ?

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A pressing question on many COMESA observers’ minds is this: do corporations (and their legal advisers) consciously ignore the CCC‘s jurisdiction and essentially flaunt the supra-national organisation’s merger-notification regime?

As reported by us yesterday, there may be an interesting test case coming up in the Uganda telecommunications sector, which may help clarify whether parties to known merger deals are simply ignoring the notification mandate of COMESA.

Today, we noticed what appears to have been two recent deals in the poultry sector in Zambia (yet another COMESA member state).  As the Zambian newspaper The Times reports, there were two transactions** that have been approved by the Zambian Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) Board of Commissioners — seemingly unilaterally and without involvement of COMESA’s CCC.

Again, as with the potential Ugandan test case we discussed, the question now becomes: were the conditions to notifiability at the COMESA level met (likely yes), and if so, did the parties intentionally fail to notify the deal to the CCC … ?  To date, only one deal (Philips/Funai) is known to have been notified to the CCC, as AfricanAntitrust.com reported here.  We would love to hear from a representative of the CCC itself to get their view on the current state of affairs.

One possible explanation of the apparent lack of COMESA notification is that the transactions pre-dated the January 2013 effective date of the COMESA competition regime, but that seems unlikely at this late stage, given that it’s already May and the CCPC is only now giving its green light to the deals.

 

** The names of some of the parties are entertaining, no less, as they are Zamchick and Rainbow Chicken.  Presumably, the merged entity might adopt Rainbow Zamchick?

Dutch suit against “paraffin mafia” cartel moves forward

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A Dutch district court has set what some believe may be a new landmark precedent in the area of private cartel enforcement in the European Union, including against South African company Sasol.

The case is what appears to be a fairly straight-forward “follow-on” civil action, i.e., a complaint brought in civil court by injured parties (or those who acquired those parties’ rights to sue) that is based entirely on a European Union Commission decision condemning illegal cartel activity within the common EU market.

My neighbors on the Avenue Louise here in Brussels, CDC (Cartel Damages Claims), had bought the rights to sue from various purchasers of paraffin wax and lodged the complaint against the “paraffin mafia” (Shell’s words, quoted by Neelie Kroes – also see here) in September 2011. The 13-year cartel (1992-2005)** may well result in sizeable civil damage awards (Sasol’s reduced EC fine alone was 318 million €) once the procedural and jurisdictional hurdles have been cleared. And this most recent ruling goes a long way in doing so. The key “procedural issues” that had to be resolved first were whether all of the cartel members could be sued in the Netherlands, even though not all of them operated in that country, and whether the pending EU court appeals against the 2008 Commission decision effectively stayed the parallel civil proceedings in the Dutch court.

The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff group on both accounts, holding that all cartelists could be sued together for damages in the jurisdiction in which any one of their fellow co-conspirators has its seat [here, that would notably be Royal Dutch Shell, ironically the cartel’s whistle-blower that escaped the EC ruling with a zero-€ fine] . That is, even though purported ring-leader Sasol or any of the other [non-Dutch] alleged cartelists may not have had any operations in the Netherlands, they can still be subject to a full-blown civil lawsuit there. In effect, the ruling says that the European Union’s antitrust decisions, combined with the civil protections afforded EU companies and citizens, creates a de facto long-arm statute, reaching beyond the traditional geographic jurisdictional boundaries.

In addition, it held that a pending appeal against an EC cartel decision should not result in an automatic stay of any civil proceedings, as this would unduly curtail the fundamental right to seek compensation of injured parties under EU law.

While I don’t read Dutch — and therefore cannot analyse the actual decision of the NL royal court — I trust that CDC summarised its findings accurately, even though the company clearly has a stake in this and thus a likely bias.

** According to Neelie Kroes’s speech, the cartelists initially met at the “Blue Salon” at a Hamburg hotel bar (my home town, coincidentally). I have a feeling it was this place — it’s always fun to visualise cartel activity in the flesh, just like “The Informant” did for moviegoers in 2009…:

Blauer Saal Kempinski Hamburg

Ugandan telecoms merger may test COMESA regime

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The announced merger between Warid Telecom and Airtel in Uganda (a COMESA member state) may become an interesting test case for the COMESA Competition Commission‘s merger-notification regime.  At least we here at AfricanAntitrust.com think so.

Not only does this deal present the opportunity for outsiders to watch whether, and if so, when the parties will notify the transaction to the CCC (the thresholds and conditions to notifiability are almost certainly met, given the pan-African activities of Bharti, Airtel’s Indian parent company) — it also may raise substantive concerns from a competition-law and merger-enforcement perspective, in light of the fact that the reported fusion of the #2 and #3 players in the Ugandan mobile telecoms market would result in a de facto 3-to-2 merger.

It will also show how the Ugandan authorities deal with COMESA’s claim to supranational jurisdiction over transactions such as this.  (Kenya had not taken well to it previously, as we reported on this blog…)  That said, aside from any NCA (since there is none in Uganda…), the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has already backed the deal as apparently pro-competitive, as The Independent reports. The reasoning there seems to be that a stronger #2 player will present more competitive challenges to the #1, which is MTN Uganda. Not necessarily orthodox antitrust doctrine, but it also comes from a non-competition body, so there…

Details of $2.9 billion bid-rigging come to light in South African parliament

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As SAcommercialPropNews reports, the South African Parliament heard testimony from the chairman of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), Mr. Bafana Ndendwa, on the developments and results of the South African Competition Commission’s investigation into the building industry at large.

The investigation into the potential 26 billion Rand collusion had begun when building budgets related to the 2010 FIFA soccer world cup in South Africa were plagued with cost overruns.  Since then, it appears that well over 40 construction companies have been investigated by the Commission.  We had previously reported on antitrust settlements in the S.A. building industry here.

Even with some settlements underway, the building-industry antitrust saga appears far from over, though.  Creating a spectre of double jeopardy, Mr. Ndendwa stated that leniency from the Commission may not yield similar treatment by other investigating bodies.  The cited article also quotes members of the ‘Portfolio Committee’ of the Parliament as pressing for criminal charges to be filed.  This is an interesting development, as the South African competition law (as it is currently in effect) does not [yet] provide for criminal sanctions against individuals.  While the law had been amended to include such a provision, the amendments have not yet been ratified and put into effect.

South Africa: Telkom agrees to penalty

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South Africa’s incumbent telecommunications infrastructure provider, Telkom Limited, has agreed to pay R449 million ($49m) to the South African Competition Commission (the “Commission”) to settle allegations that Telkom had abused its dominant market position. The company statement can be found here.

In August 2012, the Competition Tribunal (the “Tribunal“) levied the R449 million fine against Telkom for abusing its dominant position between 1994 and 2004, after the Commission received complaints from, inter alia, the South African Value Added Networks Services.

Telkom subsequently appealed the Tribunal’s decision to the Competition Appeal Court (“CAC“) which the Commission followed with its own appeal to the CAC seeking to increase the fine to R3 billion ($327m). The settlement agreement will effectively result in the parties withdrawing their appeal and/or cross-appeal and cover their own costs. In terms of the agreement, Telkom will pay 50% of the fine within six months and the balance within 18 months.

What a Valentine’s Day Letter: Kenyan Authorities Question Effect of COMESA’s Regulations

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In an illuminating Valentine’s Day letter to the Head of the COMESA CCC, the Competition Authority of Kenya has stated its view that the CCC’s Competition Regulations may not have become effective yet, due to an allegedly improperly followed publication and public-comment procedure.

Very intriguing.  This provides a helpful factual and analytical backdrop to the other Kenya vs. COMESA-CCC stories we have reported elsewhere here and here.

S.A. mobile operator escapes antitrust investigation

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South African mobile phone and data provider Cell C has managed to avoid a potential Competition Commission investigation upon having changed its text-message (SMS) pricing scheme.  The industry group that was slated to bring a formal complaint, WASPA (no kidding, that’s their actual acronym), decided not to lodge the complaint in light of the less discriminatory pricing of Cell C’s bulk SMS rates.

Nigerian court rules petro deregulation unconstitutional

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Nigeria’s High Court declared the government’s efforts to deregulate the nation’s petroleum industry unconstitutional and therefore illegal.  The government had previously attempted no longer to set the price of petroleum, and to let markets pricing prevail.

More on this case here, at African Manager.