In our latest instalment of our Meet the Enforcers series, we speak with South African Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele on the topic of hosting a series of academic & practitioner platforms to discuss cases and developments in competition-law enforcement.
This week, the South African Competition Commission and the Competition Tribunal successfully organised the 9th Annual Conference on Competition Law, Economics & Policy (as part of the 4th BRICS International Competition Conference), taking place in Durban, South Africa.
Commissioner Bonakele, the head of the SACC, discussed hosting the conference with AAT’s contributing author, Njeri Mugure, Esq. According to his biography, Mr. Bonakele has been with the Commission for the past ten years. He briefly left the Commission in March 2013 and came back in October 2013 as Acting Commissioner. He has been in this position until his appointment as the Commissioner. Bonakele has occupied various positions in the Commission’s core divisions. He was appointed Deputy Commissioner in 2008, and prior to that worked as head of mergers, head of compliance and senior legal counsel respectively.
The AAT-exclusive interview follows:
AfricanAntitrust.com: South Africa has been participating in the BRICS International Competition Conference (“BRICS ICC”) since 2011, a year after she officially became a member of BRICS. This November the country will host the 4th of this biennial meeting in Durban. What are your goals for this year’s conference?
The theme for the BRICS International Competition Conference 2015 is “Competition and Inclusive”. This theme will enable the conference to explore the relationship between competition and growth, competition and employment, competition and inequality and competition and poverty. As with the previous conferences, the aim of the conference is to strengthen cooperation amongst BRICS countries in the area of competition regulation by creating a platform for sharing experiences. We also aim to use the conference to discuss a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between BRICS competition agencies. Finally, the conference is also a platform for both developed and developing countries to discuss competition policy and enforcement issues.
AfricanAntitrust.com: Speaking of Durban, some might have expected for the 9th Annual Competition Law, Economics and Policy Conference (“Annual Competition Conference”) and/or the BRICS ICC to be held in Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa. Could you tell us why you chose to hold the two conferences in Durban?
We wanted a venue that would provide world class facilities for the conference as well as enjoyment for the delegates, and Durban ticks both boxes. The Kwazulu-Natal province, where Durban is situated, is home to rich natural resources, including Africa’s Big Five game and beautiful mountainous landscapes.
Durban itself is a diverse African city providing cultural diversity as well as a natural paradise known for its beautiful coastline beaches and subtropical climate. The City is also host to the largest and busiest harbor in Africa. The Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (Durban ICC), where the two conferences will be held, is the largest indoor conference facility in Africa.
The Commission has previously partnered with the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, eThekwini (Durban) Municipality and the University KwaZulu-Natal on various activities.
AfricanAntitrust.com: In addition to hosting the Annual and the BRICS competition conferences, the South African Competition Commission (“the Commission”) along with Cresse and the University of Kwazulu-Natal will hold a joint workshop exploring areas such as collusions and cartels, unilateral and coordinated effects in mergers, the economics of exclusionary conducts, and use of economic evidence, among others. What do you hope this workshop will achieve?
The economic understanding of competition policy is constantly evolving. In the last two decades economists have developed new theories of harm and traditional views have changed significantly. The workshop will bring top quality instruction on the economics of competition to agency officials in South Africa and more broadly Africa, competition practitioners, academics and policy makers. I hope that everyone attending the workshop will walk away having learned something new about the economics of competition.
AfricanAntitrust.com: Speaking of the this year’s events, planning the joint workshop, the Annual Competition Conference and the BRICS ICC was a great undertaking, could you tell us why you decided to have the three events back to back and what audience each event is tailored to suit?
With the BRICS conference coming into South Africa was a great opportunity as so many people were interested to come. So many opinion makers, academics and practitioners were going to be in the country, so we organized all these events to take advantage of their presence, and the response was very positive. We also thought logistically it makes sense to have our annual conference organized back to back with BRICS, so we don’t get conference fatigued. In the end, all the events flow into each other.
The Joint Workshop is a technical training and knowledge sharing platform, looking at the latest thinking on various aspects of competition enforcement.
The conference is an annual academic platform to discuss cases and developments in competition law enforcement.
AfricanAntitrust.com: Turning to the BRICS International Competition Conference, in what way has this year’s agenda been informed by the previous three conferences? What impact do you think the previous conferences have had on antitrust discourse in BRICS and non-BRICS countries?
The previous conferences, hosted by the Federal Antimonopoly Services of Russia in 2009, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of the People’s Republic of China in 2011 and Competition Commission of India in 2013, created a solid platform on which we can deepen our relations in the field of competition regulation.
South Africa has focused the conference on the relationship between growth and inclusivity. Furthermore, this year’s conference aims to institutionalize BRICS cooperation on competition matters, and move it beyond conferences. There is a proposed Memorandum and Understanding, as well as a joint research initiative.
AfricanAntitrust.com: There’s been a lot of debate surrounding public interest factors in merger review. What do you hope to achieve by including the topic to this year’s conference agenda?
It is important that BRICS countries weigh-in on this important debate. There is a divergence of views amongst many antitrust practitioners on the compatibility of antitrust issues with public interest issues, but everyone accept that there are public interest issues. The conference will deepen and broaden perspectives on the matter.
AfricanAntitrust.com: How do these engagements such as the BRICS conference and competition law enforcement in general benefit the ordinary South African?
The South African competition authorities were established as a package of reforms to transform the unequal South African economy to make it economy inclusive and ensuring that those who participate in it are competitive.
Through engagements such as the BRICS conference we’re able to discuss with our BRICS counterparts how to make our economies, which are similar, more efficient, competitive and inclusive.
The Commission has, in the past 16 years investigated and dismantled cartels from different sectors including construction, bread – a staple food for many South Africans, and cement. In the cement cartel, for instance, the Commission conducted a study post the cartel and discovered that we have saved consumers about R6 billion.
AfricanAntitrust.com: Mr. Bonakele, are there other topics you would have liked to address or comments you would like to add?
We see BRICS as an important and strategic platform where we advance arguments about the relationships between competition and other policy instruments that are very relevant in our developing countries.
As a collective, BRICS competition authorities are able to provide leadership in the international antitrust community on what it means to create and enforce competition law and policy in developing economies which come with their own particular challenges and opportunities. These perspectives will serve to enrich the global knowledge base in competition enforcement.
AfricanAntitrust.com: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Commissioner!
The interview was conducted by Ms. Mugure for AfricanAntitrust.com on 8 November 2015.