On May 24, 2021, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK or Authority) issued a notice to the manufacturers of bread on how to label the breads sold to consumers. The CAK claimed the producers were in contravention of Section 55 of the Competition Act 12 of 2012 (“Act”). Section 55(a)(i) of the Act states that “a person commits an offence when, in trade in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services, he— (a) falsely represents that— (i) goods are of a particular standard, quality, value, grade, composition, style or model or have had a particular history or particular previous use” . The This section found application in, inter alia, relation to the labelling of FMCG such as bread sold to consumers.
The CAK’s first concern was that the labels on the bread were illegible, thereby denying the consumer sufficient information. Second, the producers were directed to adjust the information on the wrappers from “Best before” to “Sell by” to indicate the date of expiration. This adjustment will make this information clearer to the consumers, according to the Authority. Sources close to the investigation stated that bread manufacturers had taken liberties with proper labeling previously and had been ‘mischievous’ with labels, as they initially placed the expiration date on the disposable part of the wrapper, thereby depriving consumers of reliable information after opening the packaging. Thereafter, upon being directed by the regulator that the information should be on the actual bread wrapper, the manufacturers purportedly caused the printing of the information to be illegible.
Regarding the issue of weight and ingredients, the bread manufacturers now have an obligation to indicate the correct weight as well as the ingredients of their breads. It was found that some breads alleged to have milk or butter while in reality they did not. Such conduct by manufactures amount to false information. This is itself a breach of the law under both the Competition Act and the Standards Act.
The CAK has the overarching consumer protection mandate, as provided under the Constitution and the Competition Act of Kenya. While carrying out this consumer protection mandate, the Authority must consult with the Kenya Bureau of Standards in all matters involving definition and specification of goods and the grading of goods by quality. Indeed in 2016, the Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to enhance cooperation with Kenya Bureau of Standards. Section 60 (1) of the Competition Act also makes it an offence for any person to supply goods which do not meet the consumer information standards prescribed by law.
Ruth Mosoti, a competition and consumer protection attorney with Primerio Ltd. in Nairobi, notes that the Authority’s chief “essentially informed the producers that compliance with the law was not a pick-and-choose buffet style option. In this instance, the consumer information standard is defined under the Standards Act and that is why the bread manufacturers have been directed to comply as Authority head Mr. Wang’ombe Kariuki correctly put it.” Kariuki stated: “manufacturers have no latitude to elect which laws to adhere to”. The specific standards in question refer to labeling.
The Authority has taken a soft enforcement approach with a focus on compliance rather than imposing the maximum penalty as prescribed by law. Contraventions of the consumer protection provisions attract a penalty of a maximum of ten million Shillings ($100,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years. One can only assume that the assertion by the Authority that no actual harm to consumers had been recorded yet as a result of the contraventions by the bread manufacturers must have influenced this soft-enforcement approach.
As of January 1st, 2021, Kenya’s competition-law enforcer, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK), started benefitting from its new “Informant Reward Scheme” (IRS). The IRS encourages “confidential informants” — often also referred to as “whistleblowers” — privy to inside information about antitrust offenses to come forward and report the illicit conduct to the Authority.
The IRS incentivizes informants with promises of anonymity as well as — rather modest, as we will see — monetary rewards: the CAK vows to maintain the confidentiality of the informant’s identity, and provides for up to Sh1,000,000 (approximately US$9,100 at today’s Fx rate).
Andreas Stargard, a competition lawyer active on the African continent, has delved more deeply into the CAK’s enabling “Guidelines” document, trying to ascertain the precise contours of the IRS program. He reports as follows:
AfricanAntitrust.com: “Who is eligible to participate in the IRS?”
Andreas Stargard: “What we know from the implementing Guidelines, and also from Director General Kariuki‘s speech on the IRS, is that only third parties or those individuals playing merely a remote and peripheral role in relation to the anti-competitive conduct are eligible to benefit from the IRS. This means that a 3rd-party customer, or a non-executive employee such as a secretary or copy clerk of the offending company, may report wrongdoing under the IRS.”
AAT: “What about insiders with executive authority, then?”
Stargard: “Similar to Western countries’ antitrust regimes, those individuals can still report illicit conduct by their employers, but they would have to resort to the Kenyan leniency process as opposed to the Informant Reward Scheme.”
AAT: “Understood. Are there other, similar whistleblower schemes in existence?”
Stargard: “Yes. We recently held a very timely webinar with leading international and African experts on the topic of whistleblowing, which I moderated. A recording of it is available on the web. Whistleblowing has become an important piece of the enforcement puzzle for many governmental authorities around the globe, not only on competition issues. In Kenya, specifically, President Kenyatta recently doubled the rewards for tax-fraud whistleblowers, who are now entitled to receive up to Sh5,000,000 ($45,000), and the country’s revenue service implemented the so-called iWhistle portal to allow informants to report tax fraud anonymously.”
AAT: “Speaking of money, what is your take on the amount of the offered reward under the terms of the IRS?”
Stargard: “Frankly speaking, one million Kenyan shillings is a paltry sum. I cannot comprehend how reporting a competition-law violation such as a price-fixing cartel that may cost the Kenyan economy and its consumers billions in losses is deserving of 5-times less reward than an informant reporting an individual’s tax fraud to the revenue service, which may cause significantly less injury to the government purse than an international cartel of corporates…”
AAT: “Strong words.”
Stargard: “I’m serious. Compare and contrast the meager sum of not even US$10,000 maximum IRS reward with the potential 5-year prison sentence liability for executives convicted of collusion! There is simply no comparison…”
AAT: “In a perfect world, what would you change about the Kenyan whistleblower scheme?”
Stargard: “If I had had any input into the process of devising the IRS Guidelines, I would have ensured that the maximum reward amount be commensurate with the economic harm and financial damage done by cartels — in short, I would raise the IRS reward to an un-capped straight-up percentage portion of the fines recovered by the CAK. The more, the better for everyone.”
AAT: “Do you have any parting words or final observations on the IRS program for our readers?”
Stargard: “Well, for starters, it is not too late to implement changes to the regime. The CAK (and the legislature, to the extent necessary) can easily increase the maximum reward, as I proposed earlier. I am certain that it would yield better results than the current Sh1m cap, which can easily be ‘outbid’ by an already-corrupt employer, seeking to ‘buy’ its employees’ loyalty! So, Mr. Kariuki, if you’re reading this interview, I’d strongly suggest considering an increase in the reward.
Secondly, from our international experience, we know one thing about ‘secret’ informant schemes: One key element of any successful whistleblower regime (besides ensuring adequate rewards) is the strictest maintenance of confidentiality of the informant’s identity. I realize that section ‘F’ of the Guidelines assures the public that anonymity will be guaranteed and that the CAK will ‘take utmost care to ensure that the identity of the confidential informant is not disclosed.’ However, as an attorney, I can only say that the proof is in the pudding. We will have to wait for the first proceedings pursuant to IRS-provided reports, in order to determine whether or not the whistleblowers’ anonymity will indeed be preserved successfully in practice. That said, I look forward to advising clients on the many issues that are likely going to arise from the Scheme!”
AAT: “Thank you for your time and insights on this new development!”
Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) Director-General Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki, MBS, will serve on the panel and contribute to its annual publication, the “World Development Report” for the upcoming calendar year. An archive of the Bank’s prior Reports is available for review here.
The Kenyan WallStreet publication quotes Kariuki as saying:
“The appointment takes cognizance of the fact that competition law enforcement has a role to play in poverty alleviation and that data is a highly-prized asset among companies, which can be leveraged for [either] development or socioeconomic harm. … Private firms may use data to deter the entry of upcoming firms, thereby limiting or preventing competition to the detriment of the consumers, specifically eroding their purchasing power and choice.”
Events focus on media & business community’s understanding of competition rules and practical workload of CCC
For two days this week, COMESA will hold its 5th annual “Regional Sensitization Workshop for Business Reporters“, focussed on provisions and application of the COMESA competition regulations and trade developments within the 19-country common market.
Over 30 journalists from close to a dozen countries are expected to participate in the event, held in Narobi, Kenya, from Monday – Tuesday.
AfricanAntitrust.com will cover all pertinent news emerging from the conference. We will update this post as the conference progresses.
Speakers include a crème de la crème of East African government antitrust enforcement, including the CCC’s own Willard Mwemba (head of M&A), the CCC’s Director Dr. George Lipimile, and the Director and CEO of the Competition Authority of Kenya, Francis Wang’ombe Kariuki. Topics will include news on the rather well-developed area of of mergerenforcement, regional integration & competition policy, as well as the concept of antitrust enforcement by the CCC as to restrictive business practices, an area that has been thus far less developed by the Commission in terms of visibility and actual enforcement, especially when compared to M&A. We previously quoted Director Lipimile’s statement at a 2014 conference that, since the CCC’s commencement of operations “in January, 2013, the most active provisions of the Regulations have been the merger control provisions.”
“We have been impressed with the Commission’s progress to-date, but remain surprised that no cartel cases have emerged from the CCC’s activities. We believe that the CCC has sufficient capacity and experience now, in its sixth year of existence, to pursue both collusion and unilateral-conduct competition cases.
Personally, I remain cautiously optimistic that the CCC will, going forward, take up the full spectrum of antitrust enforcement activities — beyond pure merger review — including monopolisation/abuse of dominance cases, as well as the inevitable cartel investigations and prosecutions that must follow.”
The media conference will conclude tomorrow evening, June 26th.
The second event, also held in Nairobi, will shift its focus both in terms of attendees and messaging: It is the CCC’s first-ever competition-law sensitization workshop for the Business Community, to take place on Wednesday. It is, arguably, even more topical than the former, given that the target audience of this workshop are the corporate actors at whom the competition legislation is aimed — invited are not only practicing attorneys, but also Managing Directors, CEOs, company secretaries, and board members of corporations. It is this audience that, in essence, conducts the type of Mergers & Acquisitions and (in some instances) restrictive, anti-competitive business conduct that falls under the jurisdiction of Messrs. Lipimile, Mwemba, and Kariuki as well as their other domestic African counterparts in the region.
The inter-regional trade component will also be emphasized; as the CCC’s materials note, “we are at a historical moment in time where the Tripartite and Continental Free Trade Area agreements are underway. The objective of these agreements is to realize a single market. Competition law plays a vital role in the realization of this objective, therefore its imperative that journalists have an understanding of how competition law contributes to the Agenda.”
Boniface Kamiti, the CAK representative replacing Mr. Kariuki at the event, noted that Africa in general and including the COMESA region “has a weak competition culture amongst businesses — which is why cartels are continuing in Africa, and the level of M&A is not at the level one would expect.” This is why media “reporting on competition advocacy is very important, to articulate the benefits of competition policy and how enforcement activities further its goals, so the COMESA countries may be able to compete with other countries, including even the EU members, at a high level.”
He also highlighted — although without further explanation — the “interplay between the COMESA competition laws and those of the member countries; most people are not aware of that!” This comment is of particular interest in light of the prior jurisdictional tension that had existed between national agencies and the CCC in the past regarding where and when to file M&A deals. These “teething issues are now fully resolved”, according to Dr. Lipimile, and there are neither de iure nor any de facto merger notification requirements in individual COMESA member states other than the “one-stop shop” CCC filing (which has, according to Mr. Mwemba, reduced parties’ M&A transaction costs by 66%).
On the issue of restrictive trade practices (RTP), the CAK reminded participants that trade associations often serve to facilitate RTP such as price-fixing cartels, which are subject to (historically not yet imposed, nor likely to be) criminal sanctions in Kenya. It also observed that (1) manufacturers’ resale price maintenance (RPM) would almost always be prosecuted under the Kenyan Competition Act, and that (2) since a 2016 legislative amendment, monopsony conduct (abuse of buyer power) is also subject to the Act’s prohibitions.
Concluding, the CAK’s Barnabas Andiva spoke of its “fruitful” collaboration with the CCC on ongoing RTP matters, noting the existing inter-agency Cooperation Agreement. Added Mr. Mwemba, “we have approximately 19 pending RTP cases.”
CCC leadership perspective: Nudging Uganda and Nigeria towards competition enforcement
Dr. Lipimile took up Mr. Kamiti’s “weak African competition culture” point, noting the peculiar regional issue that “between poverty and development lies competition” to enhance consumer welfare.
He took the audience through a brief history of antitrust laws globally, and encouraged journalists to explain the practical benefits of “creating competitive markets” for the population of the COMESA region at large.
He called on Uganda and Nigeria to — finally — enact a competition law. (AAT has independently reported on Uganda and also the EAC’s emphasis on its member nations having operational antitrust regimes. We observe that Uganda does have a draft Competition Bill pending for review; a fellow Ugandan journalist at the conference mentioned that there has been some, undefined, progress made on advancing it in the Ugandan legislature.) Dangote — the vast Nigerian cement conglomerate (see our prior article here) — and Lafarge played exemplary roles in Lipimile’s discourse, in which he commented that “they do not need protecting, they are large”, instead “we need more players” to compete.
Importantly, Dr. Lipimile emphasized that protectionism is anti-competitive, that “competition law must not discriminate,” and that its goal of ensuring competitive market behaviour must not be confused with the objectives of other laws that are more specifically geared to developing certain societal groups or bestow benefits on disadvantaged populations, as these are not the objectives of competition legislation.
The CCC also called on the press to play a more active role in the actual investigation of anti-competitive behaviour, by reporting on bid rigging, unreported M&A activity, suspected cartels (e.g., based on unexplained, joint price hikes in an industry), and the like. These types of media reports may indeed prompt CCC investigations, Lipimile said. Current “market partitioning” investigations mentioned by him include Coca Cola, SABMiller, and Unilever.
He concluded with the — intriguing, yet extremely challenging, in our view — idea of expanding and replicating the COMESA competition model on a full-fledged African scale, possibly involving the African Union as a vehicle.
COMESA Trade perspective
The organisation’s Director of Trade & Commerce, Francis Mangeni, presented the ‘competition-counterpart’ perspective on trade, using the timely example of Kenyan sugar imports, the cartel-like structure supporting them, and the resulting artificially high prices, noting the politically-influenced protectionist importation limitations imposed in Kenya.
Dr. Mangeni opined that the CCC “can and should scale up its operations vigorously” to address all competition-related impediments to free trade in the area.
Director of M&A, Mr. Mwemba, updated the conference on the agency’s merger-review developments. He pointed to the agency’s best-of-breed electronic merger filing mechanism (reducing party costs), and the importance of the CCC’s staying abreast of all new antitrust economics tools as well as commercial technologies in order to be able to evaluate new markets and their competitiveness (e.g., online payments).
As Mr. Mwemba rightly pointed out, most transactions “do not raise competition concerns” and those that do can be and often are resolved via constructive discussions and, in some cases, undertakings by the affected companies. In addition, the CCC follows international best practices such as engaging in pre-merger notification talks with the parties, as well as follow-ups with stakeholders in the affected jurisdictions.
Year-to-date (2018), the 24 notified mergers account for approximately $18 billion in COMESA turnover alone. Leading M&A sectors are banking, finance, energy, construction, and agriculture.
In terms of geographic origination, Kenya, Zambia, and Mauritius are the leading source nations of deal-making parties, with Zimbabwe and Uganda closely following and rounding out the Top-5 country list.
The total number of deals reviewed by the CCC since 2013 amounts to 175 with a total transaction value of US $92 billion, accounting for approximately $73.7 billion in COMESA market revenues alone. (The filing fees derived by the Commission have totaled $27.9 million, of which half is shared with the affected member states.)
All notified deals have received approval thus far. Over 90% of transactions were approved unconditionally. In 15 merger cases, the CCC decided to impose conditions on the approval.
Kenya’s RPM regime of exemptions to floor price-fixing regulations
The Kenya Ships Contractors Association (KSCA) recently became the latest in a long line of industry associations that have approached the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) for an exemption to set minimum prices. Other recent applicants include the Law Society of Kenya (LSK); the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), the Institute of Certified Public Secretaries of Kenya (ICPSK) and the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya.
Section 21 of the Kenyan Competition Act 12 of 2010 (the Act) prohibits firms or associations from entering into any agreement that “involves a practice of minimum resale price maintenance” (‘RPM’).
Under sections 25 and 26 (read jointly), however, firms or associations may apply to the CAK to be exempted from this prohibition by way of an application to the CAK in the prescribed form, especially in instances where they believe there are exceptional and compelling reasons (of public policy) justifying setting such resale price floors.
In evaluating requests for exemption, the CAK will consider whether the granting of an exemption will promote exports, bolster declining industries or, more generally, the potential benefits outweigh the cost of a less competitive environment due to the RPM conduct.
Kenyan competition lawyer Ruth Mosoti, with Primerio Ltd., notes that, “although each exemption will be considered on its own merits, the CAK’s recent decisions in applications of a similar nature seem to have created a precedent unfavourable to the KSCA’s request being approved.” In this regard, the CAK in the ICPAK application rejected the application and stated that the “[i]ntroduction of fee guidelines will decrease competition, increase costs, reduce innovation and efficiencies and limit choices to customers and is in fact likely to raise the cost of accountancy services beyond the reach of some consumers”.
The CAK’s Director General, Mr. Wang’ombe Kariuki has now issued a notice requesting input from the public regarding the application.
The Kenyan antitrust authority, CAK, recently closed its investigation into a classic price-fixing cartel involving the Outdoor Advertisers Association, resulting in a fine of Sh11.64 million (approx. $120,000) imposed on domestic advertising firms for fixing minimum prices of billboard space, reports the Kenya Gazette. The affected companies include Magnate Ventures Limited (Sh5 million), A1 Outdoor Limited (Sh114,000), Live Ad Limited (Sh2.5 million) and Adsite Limited (Sh2.39 million), while four others had already settled with CAK previously (Consumer Link (Sh1.2 million), Look Media (Sh136,000), Firm Bridge Limited (Sh246,400) and Spellman Walkers Limited (Sh45,180)). The remaining four trade association members will be fined forthwith.
Notes Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio Ltd., “[i]n this case — which really represents a classic minimum-price fixing arrangement among trade association members — the billboard owners agreed during a period of less than one year to set a minimum monthly price of Sh160,000 in large Kenyan markets, such as Nairobi. Interestingly, they price-discriminated geographically within their cartel arrangement and fixed the corresponding fees in smaller markets at a slightly lower amount.”
The head of the CAK, Director-GeneralWang’ombe Kariuki, lamented that a trade group was being used to manipulate an otherwise competitive process of market forces yielding market prices, which he believed are approximately 20 to 25% lower than the fixed rates, based on post-investigation pricing. Says Stargard:
“It is interesting to see that the CAK has already followed up on this matter and has noticed an arguably direct empirical result, yielding a beneficial effect of a not insignificant price reduction in advertising costs in Nairobi.”