BRICS, Extra-judicial Factors, personnel, politics, South Africa

S. African antitrust watchdog described as “toxic” by insider

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Trade union NEHAWU’s influence over agency staff cited as reason for departure

According to an excellent piece in the ZA Financial Mail – written by Andile Makholwa* and entitled “Competition Commission Bleeds Staff” – departing Acting Deputy Commissioner Trudi Makhaya has explained in detail her recent decision to leave the antitrust authority, describing a “toxic” work environment there since at least October 2013.  On the staffing front, Acting Commissioner Bonakele is quoted as regretting her departure, saying that “one of his priorities is to repair the fractured relations with senior managers and contain the staff exodus.” In the article, Makhaya is cited as bemoaning the increasing influence of NEHAWU (a powerful trade union) over the agency and its staff.

Ms. Makhaya (photo credit: Financial Mail)

While Ms. Makhaya has had her fair share of agit-prop P.R. published under her name (see, eg., her piece published this piece in the Daily Maverick, entitledThe temptations of neo-volkskapitalisme), her insider revelations of NEHAWU’s unduly high influence over the Commission are particularly interesting.

Many ZA commentators have lamented the increasingly pervasive sway that trade unions have in merger-control talks with the enforcer.  This is especially important in light of South Africa’s merger-control regime having express “public interest criteria” embedded in its legislation.

Two ZA antitrust lessons

  1. The legislation’s social agenda element, combined with the now confirmed unions’ influence over agency staff, may have resulted (and will likely result in the future, if unchecked) in extensive so-called “public-interest” conditions imposed on otherwise unproblematic transactions that pose no pure antitrust issues.
  2. The ZA Competition Commission has received extensive bad press of late.  Now, even insiders speak out about the (personnel, rather than structural) problems that have befallen the agency.  Specialist publications (such as Global Competition Review, which publishes a dedicated review and ranking of government antitrust enforcement agencies, in which the Commission used to fare rather well), as well as practitioners and the courts, may perceive these developments as significant steps backward for an institution that once was lauded as a shining example of developing competition-law authorities.  Even Acting Commissioner Bonakele admits that the authority is “in a rebuilding phase. All I can say is that the commission is losing a key staff member. It’s a setback. When you’re rebuilding an institution you need all hands on deck,” and the minister in chage (Patel) believes the Commission too independent.

 

* The author also wrote an interesting piece on the Competition Commission‘s sectoral health-care inquiry (we reported here and elsewhere) in last week’s FM.

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BRICS, personnel, South Africa

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”.

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