New Competition Commissioner not so new: Bonakele retains top job

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Interim South African Acting Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele confirmed in permanent post by minister who unceremoniously fired predecessor Ramburuth

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

This morning, economic-development minister Ebrahim Patel announced the retention of the 38 year-old Mr. Bonakele as the top antitrust enforcer in the South African republic, making permanent for a five-year term the interim appointment of the man who said the following in an interview regarding the independence of the competition authorities in South Africa:

While competition authorities should not be beholden to the government neither can they be loose cannons who claim independence without accountability.”

In prolonging Mr. Bonakele’s interim appointment for another five years, Minister Patel thus assured that the important position of Competition Commissioner did not go to a “loose cannon”…

Legislative basis

The appointment is made pursuant to Part A, Art. 22 of the South African Competition Act of 1999, as amended, which also provides (in sub section 4) for the flexible salary and benefits determination to be made by the minister himself: “The Minister must, in consultation with the Minister of Finance, determine the Commissioner’s remuneration, allowances, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment

Minister Patel

Commissioner Bonakele

Public announcement and emphasis on enforcement

In the duo’s official tweets announcing the decision (see graphic extract below), Patel congratulated Mr. Bonakele, reaffirming his and the SA cabinet’s support of the “eminently suitable” candidate, and emphasizing the importance of (1) the Competition Commission‘s ongoing and hotly debated private health-care inquiry as well as (2) the “social-justice” elements of merger conditions imposed by the SACC on mergers in the past 5 years, purportedly “protecting” 4,900 jobs.

The agency had come under considerable flak in the past year due to its high staff and executive-level turnover and a work environment that has been described as “toxic” by insiders.

The official release by the Ministry of Economic Development quotes Patel as follows:

“I am pleased to have someone of Bonakele’s calibre at the helm of the Competition Commission. He is taking leadership of the Commission at a time when the South African economy needs to become more competitive and create many more decent work opportunities by combatting market abuse such as cartels and pervasive monopolies and ensure competitive pricing of products. In particular, the key jobs drivers identified in our policy frameworks require coordinated and concerted efforts improve economic performance and development outcomes.
“The Competition Commission has been one of a number of successful economic agencies and regulators that are together beginning to transform the South African economy. Mr Bonakele possesses the skills and experience to build on the successes of the Competition Commission.”

The agency’s official “Structure” page had not yet been updated as of the day of the announcement, listing Mr. Bonakele as “Acting” head and still showing the long-departed Ms. Makhaya as a Commission official.

Official S.A. government tweets announcing SACC personnel decision of permanent Bonakele appointment

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Potential strike at S. Afr. Competition Commission? SA union calls on minister to intervene

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South African workers’ union NEHAWU has called on Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel to undertake several actions related to the Competition Commission in order to avert a strike amongst its workers.

The National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) has been a rather vocal critic of the South African Competition Commission and its management in the past.  They now cite the high turnover rate at the Commission as evidentiary support for their claims that the Commission is not “following proper procedures and the flouting of the Commission’s internal policies“.  Among the former Commission staff who have reportedly left are “former Deputy Commissioner and the Chief Economist,” as well as “several other divisional managers, including the Chief Financial Officer.”

Among the union’s current demands on the minister to remedy the purportedly dire situation at the Commission are the following:

  • The reinstatement of two employees that have been unfairly suspended from work in a manner which is inconsistent with the policies of the Competition Commission.
  • The call for the minister to intervene to stop the acts of victimisation and abuse of power by managers at the CC.
  • Call on the minister to open the appointment of the new Deputy Commissioners.
  • Call on the minister to ensure that the correct recruitment processes and policies are followed in the appointment of senior managers.
  • Call on the minister to make the outcomes of his two investigations into corporate governance at the Competition Commission available to employees.
  • Call on the minister to respond to complaints lodged with him against the Competition Commissioner and management.

NEHAWU claims that it represents “over 70% of the employees of the Commission” has threatened to “explore our legal options including a possible withdrawal of our labour”.