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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Dawn raids on the increase across Africa

By Michael-James Currie and Jenna Foley

March 2016 has been a busy month for the competition agencies of South Africa and Kenya respectively. Both agencies carried out search and seizure operations as a result of alleged collusion within various sectors of the economy. While the March dawn raids are not connected, the South African Competition Authority, as part of its advocacy outreach, provided training to the Competition Authority of Kenya relating to inter alia, search and seizure operations.

South Africa

On 23 March 2016, the South African Competition Commission carried out search and seizure operations in the automotive glass fitment industry, as part of its continued investigation into alleged collusion within this sector.

Accordingy to the SACC, the raid was carried out “at the Gauteng premises of PG Glass, Glasfit, Shatterprufe and Digicall as part of its investigation of alleged collusion. PG Glass and Glasfit are automotive glass fitment and repair service providers; Shatterprufe supplies PG Glass and Glasfit with automotive glass while Digicall processes and administers automotive glass related insurance claims on behalf of PG Glass and Glasfit.”

John Oxenham, founding director of Pr1merio, notes that “[t]his most recent dawn raid follows on from those carried out towards the latter part of 2014 and 2015 and confirms that the SACC has adopted a more robust approach to investigating alleged anti-competitive practices.” In this regard, Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele, confirmed at the 9th Annual Competition, Law, Economics and Policy Conference in November last year that the Competition Commission has in the past two years, “conducted more dawn raids than those conducted in preceding years since the Competition Commission came into existence” (nearly 16 years ago).

For an overview of dawn raids and cartel investigations in South Africa, please see the following GCR Article.

Kenya

This month the Competition Authority of Kenya (“CAK”) conducted its first dawn raid. The search and seizure operations were carried out in respect of two fertiliser firms, Mea Limited and the Yara East Africa, based on the CAK’s suspicion of price fixing occurring between these two firms, who together control approximately 60% of the fertiliser market.   The CAK conducted the raid in accordance with Section 32 of the Competition Act, 2011 which provides for the Authority to enter any premises in which persons are believed to be in possession of relevant information and documents and inspect the premises and any goods, documents and records situated thereon. This follows an inquiry which was launched last year by Kenyan competition authorities into what the CAK termed “powerful trade associations exhibiting cartel-like behaviour specifically targeting banks, microfinance institutions, forex bureaus, capital markets as well as the agricultural and insurance lobbies”.  The fact that the CAK has carried out its first dawn raid demonstrates its growing stature.

The fertiliser industry appears to be a priority sector for a number of African jurisdictions as the CAK’s investigation into this sector follows the South African Competition Commission’s investigation into the fertiliser industry (which resulted in a referral before to the South African Competition Tribunal for adjudication some years back). In this regard, the South African Competition Commission’s spokesperson stated that the “fertiliser sector is viewed as a priority sector, due to the its importance as an input in the agricultural sector” (as reported here on African antitrust)

Zambia

Interestingly, the Zambian Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) had, in 2012, conducted dawn raids at the premises of two fertiliser companies, as a result of alleged collusion within the industry.

On a Path to Harmonisation?

While there are a number of practical and legislative hurdles to effectively carrying out cross border search and seizure operations, it appears that cross border investigations may not be too far off. This is particularly so as the various agencies within the Southern African Region have identified similar priority sectors (as evidenced by both the investigations into the fertiliser sectors as well as the various market inquiries into the grocery retail sector).